Google hardware invaded software/service-focused Google I/O

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The Google I/O 2022 keynote is officially in the books (you can watch our 10-minute recap here), and by a long shot, this is the most hardware ever announced at Google’s annual developer-focused event. In the days leading up to I/O, I made some bold predictions about all the hardware I expected not to see at the event based on what’s happened there in the past. As you may recall, Google tends to be quite light on hardware at this event each year. They generally save that stuff for their fall hardware events and, headed into this week, I felt like the excitement that always builds in the ramp-up to I/O would lead to the same let downs we normally feel. Boy, was I ever wrong, and the shift in Google’s strategy here is a big deal.

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As a hardware company, Google is still in the early phases when compared to the big guys like Apple and Samsung that have been at it for far longer. That means we usually only see a major hardware-focused event once per year and everything Google makes is held for that single date.

Since 2016 this has been the norm and each year following, we’ve hoped for some hardware announcements to happen at Google I/O and have always been let down. I suppose the announcements of the original Google Home and the Pixel 3a were notable over the past 6 years, but having two hardware items announced over 6 events hardly creates any sort of precedent. If it does anything, it actually makes it appear far more likely that Google skips hardware at I/O altogether in order to focus on what the event is built for: software and developement.

Don’t get me wrong: Google didn’t abandon what I/O stands for. Instead, they added to it. The first 90 minutes of the keynote were all about software and we could talk about that stuff for hours. Between updates to Search, Maps, Workspace, Assistant, Android, ChromeOS and YouTube, there was plenty being discussed on the software side of things.

But then Google did something quite different: they introduced the hardware team and let them take over the show. This wasn’t about one new product. It was about a portfolio of devices all built around the Pixel brand that look to further cement Google as a legit hardware manufacturer. Like Apple and Samsung before them, it seems Google now has enough hardware on the way to talk about it at multiple events throughout the year.

We’ve said it over and over, but Google I/O is a huge event that we’ve felt could be used for big hardware annoucements, and Google has finally leaned into that. Maybe they didn’t have quite enough hardware in the past or their vision wasn’t clear enough, but whatever has shifted, it has set a new precedent for Google I/O moving forward. Like Apple’s WWDC, this isn’t just a developer conference any longer: it’s a place to launch some new gear, too. So, let’s talk about those devices, shall we?

Pixel 6a

First up is the Pixel 6a. It’s been rumored and leaked all over the place, so there wasn’t much new to look at. It’s 6.1-inches, has a similar look to the standard Pixel 6, and starts at $449. Google didn’t mention the camera setup in the presentation, but the specs tell us its a 12.2MP primary and 12MP ultrawide setup with a front-facing 8MP camera. Sound familiar? It’s the older setup used on phones like the Pixel 5 and 5a and, yes, it will work just fine.

With the same Tensor chip inside that the Pixel 6 has, it is now crystal clear what Google is doing with the Pixel 6a, and I like it. To get the price down, the camera is not the latest setup (but is totally proven), wireless charging is removed, a 60hz 1080p screen replaces the 90hz or 120hz screens on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, and you drop to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage and replace the glass back with plastic. Simple! These are corners I like to see Google cutting, and it will give users a legit Pixel experience for far less cash while still making a device that delivers what you expect from a Google phone. Oh, and it launches on July 21st for pre-order, shipping on the 28th.

Pixel Watch

Next up is the Pixel Watch. Again, this device was leaked all over the place, but it’s so good to see it in some new videos and on Rick Osterloh’s wrist on stage. We didn’t get a ton of new info, but all the rumors, leaks and renders were pretty spot on. The watch looks really great and if they can keep the price in check, it will sell like crazy as the premium, Google-made competition to the Apple Watch.

The Fitbit integration will be huge for this watch, too, giving Fitbit users like myself a more capable, more-premium option for a smartwatch while adding in all the apps and Google Assistant tricks you want to see as well. Google gave us no info on the internals or the pricing, but we at least have a rough date: in the fall with the Pixel 7.

Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro

Speaking of Pixel 7, Google completely caught me off guard and went ahead and showed us the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. Talk about squashing leaks! The design looks awesome and the biggest change they showed was the visor on the back getting the all-aluminum treatment. It looks to blend seamlessly with the side rails and will probably make for a much more durable device overall.

No specs were shared at this point, but they did let us in on the fact that we’ll see a Tensor Gen 2 of sorts in the Pixel 7, but I doubt that surprises anyone. We all knew Google would launch Pixel 7 this fall and we don’t need leakers to tell us that. It was also a foregone conclusion that we’d get a second Tensor chip, but what I didn’t expect was Google to just come out and confirm all of that at I/O. It was a really cool surprise.

Pixel Buds Pro

Another surprise was the official announcement and release date for the Pixel Buds Pro. This was an item I really thought we’d not see until the fall, but I was way off in that assumption. Not only did the announcement give us all the details on the new Pixel Buds, it also provided a date: July 21st for order, July 28th for purchase, just like the Pixel 6a.

The new Pixel Buds Pro – on the surface – fix all the complaints I had with the Pixel Buds: they add ANC, they get rid of the painful thorn, and they should address the connection issues that were present in the first version. The most exciting part is the fact that Google is leaning on their Machine Learning to provide top-notch noise cancellation, better ambient passthrough sound, and improved background noise reduction for calls.

If all of this comes together the right way for Google’s 3rd attempt at earbuds, we’re in for a treat. At $199, they start at $50 less than Apple’s Airpods Pro, and for me, that’s the set Google needs to beat. If specs translate into experience, this could be a stellar set of earbuds. The only thing I’m left wondering about is the audio latency for gaming. With even cheap earbuds handling this with ease, I have little doubt Google can fix this issue from their older Pixel Buds, but I’m not getting the cart before the horse on this one.

Pixel Tablet

We have a couple more, and the first of those is the strange announcement of a Pixel Tablet that will run Android and won’t launch until some time in 2023. The images shown looked like a tablet from 2016 and there were very few details, but the fact that Google is making a 180 on its decision to get out of the tablet market is interesting to say the least. What this tablet will end up becoming could absolutely change over the next year or so, so don’t draw too many conclusions on this device right now. I think more than anything, Google wants developers to take larger screens more seriously for Android, and the fact that they exited the tablet game wasn’t helping that effort. So, in a way, Google is back in tablet game.

Google AR Glasses (Google Glass 2?)

Finally, there was Google’s very early look at what I am personally calling Google Glass 2. That’s not the name, but what Google showed off in this portion of the keynote gave me goosebumps. Seriously. The demo they showed was a mock up, but the pair of AR glasses being used by the individuals was real, and the results were phenomenal. While AR will absolutely be capable of all sorts of things in the future, the demo Google went with used real time translation, allowing the person behind the glasses to see language translated in real time in a heads-up display as the other person was talking: letting people who have had issues communicating with loved ones speak back and forth with ease. It was heartwarming and an amazing look at what AR could do for us in the very near future.

And that, dear reader, is all the Google hardware that was announced this year at the software/services-focused Google I/O conference. Again, we hoped for a bit of hardware and ended up with a truck load. No one is complaining about it, but the sudden shift does paint a very different picture of Google here in 2022, and it is an exciting one for sure.

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