Despite the fact that Google I/O is usually software and service-focused event, this year’s keynote was dominated by hardware announcements, which is unusual. The most interesting of them was the news that Google wants to return to the Android tablet market next year and that it will also release its first wearable — the Pixel Watch — later in 2022.
Google cited a variety of reasons for its shift in policy. Google’s VP of product management Sameer Samat made an interesting observation about the potential benefits of a tablet device for the Pixel ecosystem as a whole. This has evolved over time, too, Samat believes, because of changes in customer expectations.
When it comes to picking which ecosystem to join and which ecosystem to live in, “Phone is absolutely incredibly important, but it’s also becoming very evident that there are other device form factors which are complementing and as critical.”
Complementary and critical considerations for a consumer’s decision on which ecosystem to buy into can be found in the form of “other device form factors.”
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As a result, the company isn’t just concerned with making a Pixel tablet (and a Pixel Watch) because it wants people to buy them. As part of Google’s overall strategy to get people to buy into the Pixel ecosystem, this is critical.
Pixel phones will continue to be significant, but Google also wants users to know that if they buy a Google smartphone, there are a variety of accessories available, including smartwatches, earbuds, and tablets. There is a significant probability that after they purchase the perfect Pixel accessory, they’ll stick with the smartphone brand when they upgrade.
Comparable to Apple’s (often aggressive) usage of the “walled garden” to become a $2 trillion company, this strategy is similar. Apple’s AirPods operate best with iPads, which can be controlled by Macs, which in turn can be controlled by iPads.
The Apple Watch and your Apple TV can be used to control Apple Fitness workouts. To use iMessage, you and your contacts must all have iPhones. I’m sure you got the gist of it. As a result of Apple’s strong belief in its ecosystem, the company will occasionally place a higher value on it than it does on its individual products.
HomePod is an example of a product that would have been more helpful and possibly sold more copies, had it supported Bluetooth streaming instead of Apple’s proprietary AirPlay standard. However, as analyst Benedict Evans noted at the time, the goal of the HomePod was likely never to sell in large numbers but simply to provide any iPhone owners who bought it another reason to continue with Apple for their next phone purchase.
No, I don’t think Google will ever put the same type of walls around their garden. As a result of this open strategy, Android holds an estimated 75% of the worldwide smartphone market. While Google has been attempting to make Android phones more interoperable with Windows for years, the Wear OS operating system is designed to operate with iOS devices.
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The Pixel portfolio features smart, powerful phones that deliver the personal Pixel experience, earbuds with immersive premium sound that adapt to you, and our first smartwatch built inside and out by Google.#GoogleIO pic.twitter.com/RH0EnZLhit
— Made By Google (@madebygoogle) May 13, 2022
That isn’t going to change with the introduction of a Google-branded smartwatch and tablet. As with Apple’s AirPods, Google’s approach is more subdued than that of the iPhone maker. When connected with an Android phone, Wear OS is at its best. And Google’s software is often built to be cross-compatible, such as ChromeOS’s ability to run Android applications.
Despite this, Google appears to be moving its focus from a software-only approach to one that includes hardware. As far as I know, the Pixel Watch is only compatible with Android devices, although I’d be astonished if it didn’t operate best with Pixel phones.
However, this strategy appears to be reaching its limits now, in part due to the competing ecosystem goals of other corporations. If you’re referring to Samsung here, you’re talking about the world’s most popular Wear OS smartwatch company.
Samsung’s devices, despite running Google’s operating systems, have always steered their consumers toward Samsung’s own ecosystem. Samsung ultimately used Wear OS on one of its smartwatches instead of its own Tizen operating system last year with the Galaxy Watch 4.
However, despite the fact that it appeared to be embracing Google’s environment, the smartwatch was always loyal to Samsung. Samsung Pay was used instead of Google Pay, Bixby was used instead of Google Assistant, and Samsung apps like Calendar, Calculator, and Contacts were included instead of Google’s.
It can sync settings from Samsung phones and leverages Samsung’s auto-switch mechanism for Galaxy-branded earbuds to transition between devices. As a Samsung user, the Galaxy Watch 4 is an outstanding smartwatch.
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— Google (@Google) May 11, 2022
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The Galaxy Watch 4 “all but forces you in to Samsung’s ecosystem,” the wearable device. Tablets are the same. Many of the capabilities that Dan Seifert discovered when he was reviewing the Tab S8 earlier this year only mattered to people who already owned previous Samsung devices.
When using Galaxy Buds, the tablet can activate the mobile hotspot capability on a Samsung phone, which then switches between the two devices automatically. “After years of not seeing a solid reason to buy an Android tablet, I have to concede that Samsung has delivered a convincing argument this time around – assuming you are already in the Samsung Android ecosystem,” he wrote.
With Samsung’s strategy, it’s clear what the incentives are these days for consumer technology businesses. If they wanted to, they could build their products to work flawlessly with all of Google’s hardware as well as their apps and services.
Alternatively, if you’re the world’s most popular smartphone manufacturer, you may encourage your current consumers to buy a wristwatch or tablet to go along with their phone. Because once you have a Samsung Galaxy phone, it’s unlikely you’ll ever look at Google Pixel or OnePlus again.
A modest hardware focus with extensive software support has been Google’s goal since the launch of Pixel. If you don’t control both your hardware and software in 2022, then you’ll let another firm do it better—and even park its platform right on top of yours.