Pixel season is upon us, as Google prepares to show off next-gen hardware across several categories this coming Wednesday, October 4. It'll also be the sixth Google fall hardware launch I've covered (either in person or remotely), the first being the venerable Samsung Galaxy Nexus back in 2011.
Usually that'd give you a fair bit of perspective — background knowledge to help you see what's coming next from the company. But Google is also notoriously unpredictable when it comes to hardware, as evidenced by the sudden pivot towards Pixel and the "made by Google" brand in 2016.
Nevertheless, as we approach launch day, there's just enough time for me to dedicate a Sunday column to what I'm expecting.
So here goes...
New Pixel phones and a new Android version
Because of course.
We'll get an HTC-made miniature Pixel and an LG-built biggie Pixel, and you can read all about what's rumoured for both over here. The short version: This year the Pixel 2 XL will be the more interesting of the two, as Google moves away from the design and internal hardware symmetry of the previous generation. The baby Pixel will be a second-class citizen, with a 16:9 screen and chunky bezels.
Google should also push out a new version of Android for the Pixels, and who this may even be exclusive to the new phones until sometime later in the year, a la Android 7.1 last year. A good predictor of future Android versions is traffic to Android Central and our forums, and right now in our analytics we're seeing small spikes from Android 8.1.0, and nothing from 8.0.1.
In the Android world, a .1 version bump usually means a new API level, which means new stuff for developers to get to grips with. (Though last year the additions in 7.1 weren't exactly groundbreaking compared to 7.0.)
The new phones will be kinda boring
Last year, there was ample novelty value associated with the new Google phones, the new Pixel UI, Google Assistant, and their surprisingly excellent cameras.
To put further wind in Google's sales, the competition was relatively weak. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were pretty dull, Samsung had just shipped the smartphone equivalent of Dr. Zoidberg's slinky, and the LG V20 — which didn't even get a proper European launch — would fall flat.
This year, the competition is far stronger. Google's going up against the iPhone X, Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30, all of which are formidable. That's to say nothing of the few unannounced surprises from other manufacturers coming in the months ahead.
Google needs something amazing and unique, and from the leaks we've seen so far (and let's be clear, an awful lot has leaked) the only truly different feature looks set to be Google Lens. Lens has the potential to be amazing, and there's an above average chance it'll be Pixel-exclusive for a while, as Assistant as in 2016. But is it a reason to buy a single-camera, headphone-jack-less, wireless-charging-less Pixel? I'm not so sure.
Google can always make up for this lack of pizazz with a huge marketing campaign, as it did in 2016. But it'll need to follow up with solid retail availability of the kind that was sorely lacking for the first-gen Pixels.
There'll be a new Pixel tablet
Nope, I'm not talking about the already-leaked Pixelbook laptop, which looks to be running Chrome OS (likely with Android app support working out of the box.) Google needs a reference tablet for Android, and the Pixel C is about to reach the end of its life cycle.
Google either stops developing Android for tablets, or releases an up-to-date Pixel slate.
If we don't get a new Pixel tablet on October 4 (and it doesn't arrive within the following six months), then maybe that means Google sees this category as being better served by Chrome OS or (eventually) whatever spawns out of the Fuchsia project.
If we do, you have to wonder who'll be the ODM this time around, given the relatively few manufacturers currently selling high-end Android tablets.
Assistant is the new Chromecast
We've already seen the beginnings of this with the second-gen Bose QC35 cans, but expect one of the underlying themes of Google's presentation on to be the growth of Assistant across a multitude of product categories. Just as Chromecast grew from a single TV dongle to a range of connected products, Google will want Assistant to be in anything with a speaker and microphone.
Another major theme will be AI, and I'll be watching with interest to see how Google's hardware division can implement some of the things Sundar Pichai introduced back at the Google I/O keynote in May.
Google Lens will surely exist as its own app. But imagine having some of the AI-based photo features, like the ability to remove an unwanted chain link fence grid from a sports photo, build right into the camera app.
The Google Search bar will be back
This one's mostly just a gut feeling. RIP Pixel pill.
(Hello, new rounded Google search bar.)
That's it for this weekend. As always, you can catch all our Pixel coverage right here this Wednesday morning PDT.
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