San Francisco: Looking to finally enter the smartphone hardware business, Alphabet Inc.’s Google is going after a familiar foe: Apple Inc.
The Mountain View-based maker of the Android mobile operating system unveiled new smartphones on Tuesday, the Pixel and a larger Pixel XL, that compete head on with the iPhone.
The Pixel phones feature thin aluminum and glass frames that come in black, silver, or blue (a limited edition for the US). The smaller model, which starts at $649 for 32-gigabytes of storage, features a 5-inch screen, while the bigger model, priced at $769, has a 5.5-inch screen to match the iPhone 7 Plus. A 128-gigabyte storage option is also available, with the larger device topping out at $869 — also in line with the equivalent iPhone 7 Plus.
The models feature high-resolution displays that Google said are sharper than the iPhones’, along with 12 mega pixel rear cameras, 8 mega pixel front cameras, and Qualcomm Inc.’s Snapdragon processors. The phones are the first to run Google’s new Siri-like digital Assistant and include new features for editing photos.
The Pixel phones are the first conceptualized, designed, engineered and tested in-house by Google. Similar to Apple’s partnership with Foxconn in China, Google is getting HTC Corp. to assemble the Pixel devices, Google’s hardware chief Rick Osterloh, said in a recent interview.
Besides similar functionality and pricing, Google is going right after Apple customers with a new option to automatically transfer data such as contacts and photos from an iPhone to the Pixel when it’s first switched on. Google included a physical adapter in the box that plugs the new devices into iPhones to conduct the process. Apple added a similar feature to the iPhone last year, allowing users to port their information over from Android gadgets.
“Premium is a very important category,” Hiroshi Lockheimer, head of Android, said in a recent interview. “It’s where Apple is also very strong. Is there room for another player there? We think so.”
The Pixel phones run a new version of Android, called Nougat 7.1, and have a user interface customized by Google. The home screen includes a translucent launcher that reveals circular icons as it gradually blurs the background wallpaper when users swipe up from the bottom. There’s also a shortcut to summon technical support and a digital home button to wake up Google’s digital Assistant.
The Android update will be available for other Android partners, but getting the new features will be dependent on support from those other phone manufacturers. The update includes a mechanism that adjusts the screen’s lighting based on time of day, and support for a Daydream virtual reality headset that Google also debuted Tuesday.
The Pixel phones can be pre-ordered Tuesday via Google’s website and will be available in retail stores 20 October, according to the company. They will be available in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Germany this month, and the phone will arrive in India in November.
The phones can be purchased in the US as part of a monthly wireless plan from Verizon Communications Inc., Google said. They can also be bought through Project Fi, Google’s own wireless service. Bloomberg