Google is holding an event today where it’s expected to unveil several new products — a new phone, its Home speaker device, and possibly a new operating system named Andromeda. As usual, what’s leaked are specs, pictures, and some other details but none of the rationale or strategy behind these moves. As with Apple’s event last month, the most interesting questions are often the whys rather than the whats of the announcements. So here are some detailed questions I’m hoping to hear answers to at the event.
How is Pixel better than Nexus?
The single biggest question about the phone Google is expected to announce is how it’s going to be better than the Nexus phones that proceeded it. We’ve seen pictures that make the phone look like a close relative of the iPhone, at least from the front, but little of the hardware and software features that will set it apart. As I wrote ahead of last year’s Google event, the Nexus phones have never enjoyed significant sales or market share, even within the Android community. They’ve served a specific need – cheap, pure Android phones for developers and a handful of enthusiasts with similar interests – but have never gone further. How is Pixel different and, more importantly, how is it better?
How will Home get to know you?
One of Google’s big messages about Home when it was first teased at I/O was that it would get to know you over time. My question then as now was, what does that really means when most Home devices will be shared by multiple people in a household? Whether roommates, cohabiting couples, or families with kids, the default setting for Home will be homes with more than one individual, not all of whom will have a Google account (have you ever tried setting up a Google account for someone under 13?). How will Home distinguish between the people in a home and learn about each of them individually? Will it use voice recognition and will that voice recognition be able to effectively distinguish between siblings with very similar voices? Will it provide generic responses to most users and customized responses only to those with Google accounts? There are lots of questions with associated privacy implications if information is shared with the wrong people. This is something Echo doesn’t really deal with but people will expect Home to be good at.
How will Pixel and Home be distributed?
One big question relevant for both the hardware products we’re expecting to see announced relates to distribution. Nexus phones have rarely enjoyed broad carrier distribution and it appears Google has (predictably) struggled to get carrier distribution for the Pixel, too. Without distribution, the Pixel phone is likely dead in the water for that reason alone. Where will the Pixel phone be sold and will Google offer carrier-like installment plans through its own site (as it does for Nexus phones on the Google Fi service)? Amazon benefits enormously from being able to market the Echo through the largest e-commerce site in the world. What will Google do to make people aware of and want to buy Home? Where will it be sold? You can find the Echo at my local Home Depot but only if you know where to look. That doesn’t matter enormously to Amazon, but similar placement would be enormously problematic for Home and Google.
Why Andromeda? And when?
The third big thing we’re expecting to see at Google’s event is a new operating system, Andromeda, which allegedly combines elements of Android and ChromeOS. The big question is why Google is introducing a third operating system rather than simply consolidating around one of its existing operating systems (preferably the massive Android rather than the marginal ChromeOS). What benefits does Andromeda offer over ChromeOS on laptops? Closely related is the question of whether Andromeda will eventually become the “one OS to rule them all” and displace not just ChromeOS but Android. If that is indeed the case, the next big question is when – when will Andromeda be available and how long will it be before it replaces Android on smartphones and tablets? If it is to coexist, that will be confusing to users and OEMs alike, so Google needs to have clear messaging here.
What’s the role of Daydream hardware?
The last element of the event is likely to be a play around Daydream, Google’s VR platform, also announced at I/O earlier this year. What we’re expecting here is hardware from Google which will presumably be closely tied to the Pixel phone and potentially available as a bundle with that device. As I see it, the role of Daydream as a platform is to provide a route to VR hardware for Android vendors not named Samsung. But it’s less clear why Google needs to produce its own hardware here, especially if it’s also trying to encourage Android OEMs to develop their own. With both the Pixel phone and the Daydream hardware, the big question is, why does Google want to compete with OEMs? We’ve seen Microsoft walk a fine line here with the Surface line, prodding its OEM partners to do better while not alienating them, but can Google do it as well? We all remember the awkward quotes from Android OEMs about the Motorola acquisition, reeking of Stockholm Syndrome, but those were reflective of the balance of power between Google and the OEMs then. How will they react now, given the current dynamics?