Bigger is better again as smartphones are growing larger with each new generation and Google’s Pixel 3 is following the trend. The company’s new Pixel phones mirror an industry trend toward lusher, bigger screens and add twists on the camera for better pictures.
The third generation of Pixel phones unveiled Tuesday at an event in New York features screens that span from one edge to another. It’s the first time Google has embraced the format, which Samsung has had for a few years and Apple adopted last year.
But Google is undercutting Apple on price. The Pixel 3 will be available Oct. 18 starting at $799 — $200 below the least expensive iPhone XS. A larger version, the Pixel 3 XL, costs $100 more.
Google is also hiring photographer Annie Leibovitz to take pictures with the new Pixel in an effort to persuade consumers that its camera is superior.
The camera, for instance, promises better low-light and close-up shots by using artificial-intelligence software to combine multiple shots taken in succession. It will also warn you if someone blinked or if the shot is otherwise poor. The camera automatically takes about three seconds of shots, at a lower resolution, and will recommend an alternative.
The Pixel joins LG’s V40 in sporting a second front lens to fit more people into selfies. But it lacks a zoom lens on either side, something available on some iPhones and Samsung phones. Instead, Google uses software to mimic that effect.
Beyond the camera, Google is using artificial intelligence to help screen calls. Just tap on a button for Google’s voice assistant to ask the caller about the purpose of the call. You see a transcript of the response on the screen. You can choose to pick up or ignore the call. Callers are warned that they are talking to a robot and that a transcript would be made.
Although the Pixels have barely made a dent in the market since their debut two years ago, Google uses them to highlight what it considers to be the best features of its Android operating system. A previously announced feature in which software will call businesses to make appointments and restaurant reservations for you will debut on the Pixel first, for instance — initially in New York, Atlanta, Phoenix, Arizona, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said the Pixel 3 doesn’t break new ground on hardware, but “software is a different story. It’s mostly about convenience here.”
As usual, the Pixel phones focus heavily on Google’s search engine, maps, digital assistant and YouTube video service.
Google has sold an estimated 7 million Pixels over the past two years, almost imperceptible next to the 3.6 billion phones shipped during that time, according to IDC. Apple alone sold 388 million iPhones during the same period.
Tuesday’s announcements come a day after Google disclosed a flaw that could have exposed personal information of up to 500,000 users of its Plus social network. Google declined to address that further Tuesday, though executives emphasized privacy and security throughout the event in New York.
For instance, the camera’s features for better shots will take advantage of software on the device itself, so that nothing gets sent to Google’s servers — unless you enable a backup feature with Google Photos. The Pixel 3 will have a new chip, called Titan, to store keys to the most sensitive information, including those needed to unlock the phone and descramble stored data. Many other phones already have similar hardware for security.
Google also rolled out Home Hub, which couples a small display screen with an internet-connected speaker. That’s similar to Amazon’s Echo Show and a new Facebook device called Portal. In another apparent nod to privacy concerns, Google didn’t put a camera on its Home Hub like Amazon and Facebook did with their respective devices to enable video calls.
Again, Google is attacking its rivals on price. The Home Hub will sell for $149 when it comes to stores Oct. 22. The new version Echo Show starts at $229, while the least expensive Facebook Portal sells for $199.
There’s also an upcoming tablet featuring Google’s home-grown Chrome OS system. It will run Android apps, but offer functionality that’s closer to a desktop. The Pixel Slate starts at $599; a keyboard costs $199 more and a stylus another $99.
Google is shutting down its long-shunned Plus social network for consumers, following its disclosure of a flaw discovered in March that could have exposed some personal information of up to 500,000 people.
The announcement came in a Monday blog post, which marked Google’s first public description of the privacy bug.
Google deliberately avoided disclosing the problem at the time, in part to avoid drawing regulatory scrutiny and damaging its reputation, according to a Wall Street Journal story that cited anonymous individuals and documents.
The Mountain View, California, company declined to comment on the Journal’s report, and didn’t fully explain in its blog post why it held off on revealing the bug until Monday.
The Google Plus flaw could have allowed up to 438 external apps to scoop up user names, email addresses, occupations, genders, and ages without authorization. The company didn’t find any evidence that any of the personal information affected by the Plus breach was misused.
The timeline laid out by Google indicates the company discovered the privacy lapse around the same time that Facebook was under fire for a leak in its far more popular social network. Facebooks’ breakdown exposed the personal information of as many as 87 million of its users to Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm affiliated with President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Congress summoned CEO Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to be grilled about his company’s privacy issues in April.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently declined to an invitation to travel to Washington to testify before the Senate about foreign governments’ manipulation of online services to sway U.S. political elections. His absence incensed some lawmakers, who left an empty chair for Google alongside the Twitter and Facebook executives who appeared before the Senate committee in September.
“With this breach announcement, the empty seat bearing Google’s name just became a lot hotter,” said Mike Chapple, an associate professor of information technology, analytics and operations at the University of Notre Dame.
Pichai went to Washington to mend political fences with lawmakers in late September and agreed to participate in a White House roundtable on technology that President Trump intends to attend. He also will appear in House hearings after the midterm elections in November.
Google has a strong incentive to position itself as a trustworthy guardian of personal information because, like Facebook, its financial success hinges on its success to learn about the interests, habits and location of its users in order to sell targeted ads.
The desire to peer into people’s lives is one of the reasons that Google launched Plus in 2011. It was supposed to be a challenger to Facebook’s social network, which now has more than 2 billion users. But Plus flopped and quickly turned into a digital ghost town, prompting Google to start de-emphasizing it several years ago.
But the company kept it open long enough to cause an embarrassing privacy gaffe that could give Congress an excuse to enact tighter controls on data collection.
“Every data mishap strengthens the bipartisan case for Congress to take action on data protection,” said Jonathan Mayer, an assistant professor at Princeton University who formerly worked in the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau.
Europe began to impose tougher online privacy regulations in May. Those rules also include disclosure requirements for data breaches. Those rules don’t apply to the Plus problem because Google discovered it before they took effect.
Google+ isn’t the first social network to fail. There were Friendster and MySpace, but they burned out in an earlier era, before the all-consuming social media age we live in now. Friendster shut down in 2015 after a brief pivot into gaming. MySpace is technically still around, though it’s positioned itself as a music site. Vine, the Twitter-owned network for 6-second video loops, announced its closure in 2016. The move was widely lamented, and most of its users migrated to Instagram and YouTube.
This is different. Google+ was originally meant to be an alternative to the behemoth that is Facebook. It failed spectacularly, but it’s a major social network by arguably one of the most powerful companies on the planet. This is a social network announcing its death at a time when we’re so entrenched in social media it may be suffocating us. About 77 percent of the US population has a social media profile, according to Statista. We’ve relied on the mechanisms of social media so heavily; it’s brought us disinformation, division, election interference, and data misuse.