Google hardware has invaded software/service-focused Google I/O
The Google I/O 2022 keynote is officially in the books (you can watch our 10-minute recap here), and by far it’s the most material ever announced at Google’s annual event focused on on developers. In the days leading up to I/O, I made some bold predictions about all the hardware I was expecting do not to see during the event based on what has happened there in the past. As you may recall, Google tends to be pretty light on hardware at this event every year. They usually save these items for their fall hardware events and as we approached this week I had a feeling that the excitement that always builds in the I/O ramp up would lead to the same disappointments that we normally feel. Boy, am I wrong already, and Google’s change in strategy here is a big deal.
As a hardware company, Google is still in its infancy compared to big names like Apple and Samsung that have been around much longer. This means that we usually only see a major hardware-focused event once a year, and everything Google does is saved for that single date.
Since 2016 it’s been the norm and every year after that we hoped for hardware announcements to happen at Google I/O and we’ve always been disappointed. I guess the announcements of the original Google Home and the Pixel 3a have been notable over the past 6 years, but having two hardware items announced over 6 events hardly sets a precedent. If it does anything, it actually seems much more likely that Google will skip the I/O-level hardware altogether in order to focus on what the event is designed for: software and development.
Don’t get me wrong: Google hasn’t given up on what I/O means. Instead, they added to it. The first 90 minutes of the talk were about software and we could talk about it for hours. Between updates to Search, Maps, Workspace, Assistant, Android, ChromeOS, and YouTube, there’s been a lot of talk on the software side.
But then Google did something quite different: they introduced the hardware team and let them run the show. It was not a new product. It was a portfolio of devices all built around the Pixel brand that seek to further cement Google as a legitimate hardware maker. Like Apple and Samsung before them, it looks like Google now has enough material to talk about it at several events throughout the year.
We’ve said it many times, but Google I/O is a huge event that we think could be used for big hardware announcements, and Google finally got around to it. Maybe they didn’t have enough material in the past or their vision wasn’t clear enough, but all that changed, it set a new precedent for Google I/O moving forward. Like Apple’s WWDC, it’s not just a developer conference anymore: it’s also a place to launch new gear. So, let’s talk about these devices, shall we?
The first is the Pixel 6a. There were rumors and leaks all over the place, so there wasn’t much new to watch. It measures 6.1 inches, looks like the standard Pixel 6, and starts at $449. Google didn’t mention the camera setup in the presentation, but the specs tell us that it’s a 12.2MP primary and 12MP ultrawide setup with an 8MP front camera. Sound familiar? This is the old setup used on phones like the Pixel 5 and 5a and, yes, it will work just fine.
With the same Tensor chip inside as the Pixel 6, it’s now crystal clear what Google is doing with the Pixel 6a, and I like that. To bring the price down, the camera isn’t the latest setup (but is totally proven), wireless charging is removed, a 60hz 1080p display replaces the 90hz or 120hz displays on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, and you’re down to 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage and replace the glass back with plastic. Simple! These are corners I like to see Google cut, and it will give users a legit Pixel experience for a lot less money while creating a device that offers what you expect from a Google phone. Oh, and it launches on July 21 for pre-order, shipping on the 28th.
Next up is the Pixel Watch. Again, this device has leaked everywhere, but it’s so good to see it in new videos and on Rick Osterloh’s wrist on stage. We didn’t get a ton of new information, but all of the rumors, leaks, and renders were pretty accurate. The watch looks really good and if they can control the price it will sell like crazy as Google’s premium competitor for the Apple Watch.
Fitbit integration will also be huge for this watch, giving Fitbit users like me a better, more premium option for a smartwatch while adding all the Google Assistant apps and tricks you want to see too. Google didn’t give us any information on internals or pricing, but we at least an approximate 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 crushing the leaks! The design looks great and the biggest change they showed was the rear visor getting the all-aluminum treatment. It seems to blend seamlessly with the side rails and will likely be a much more durable device overall.
No specs have been shared at this point, but they did let us know that we’ll see some sort of Tensor Gen 2 in the Pixel 7, but I doubt that will come as a surprise to anyone. We all knew Google would launch Pixel 7 this fall and we don’t need leaks to tell us that. It was also obvious that we would have a second Tensor chip, but what I didn’t expect was for Google to come out and confirm all of this at I/O. It was a very good surprise.
Pixel Buds Pro
Another surprise was the official announcement and Pixel Buds Pro release date. This was an article that I really thought we wouldn’t see until the fall, but I was far from this assumption. Not only did the announcement give us all the details about the new Pixel Buds, but it also provided a date: July 21 for ordering, July 28 for purchasing, 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 sore thorn, and they should fix the connection issues that were present in the first version. The most exciting part is that Google is relying on its machine learning to deliver top-notch noise cancellation, better ambient transmission audio, and better background noise reduction for calls.
If this all comes together in the right way for Google’s third headphone attempt, we’re in for a treat. At $199, they start $50 less than Apple’s Airpods Pro, and to me, that’s the set Google has to beat. If the specs translate to an experience, this could be a stellar set of headphones. The only thing left for me to wonder about is audio latency for gaming. Even with cheap headphones that handle this easily, I have no doubt Google can fix this from its older Pixel Buds, but I’m not taking the cart before the horse on this one.
We have a few more, and the first of them is the strange announcement of a Pixel tablet that will run Android and won’t launch until 2023. The images shown looked like a tablet from 2016 and there were very few details, but the fact that Google is doing a 180 on its decision to withdraw from the tablet market is interesting to say the least. What this tablet eventually becomes could absolutely change over the next year, so don’t jump to too many conclusions about this device just yet. I think more than anything, Google wants developers to take bigger screens for Android more seriously, and the fact that they quit the tablet game didn’t help that effort. So, in a way, Google is back in the tablet game.
Google AR glasses (Google Glass 2?)
Finally, there was Google’s very first look at what I personally call Google Glass 2. That’s not the name, but what Google showed in this part of the speech gave me goosebumps. Seriously. The demo they showed was a mock-up, but the pair of AR glasses the individuals used was real, and the results were phenomenal. While AR will absolutely be capable of all sorts of things in the future, Google’s demo used real-time translation, allowing the person behind the glasses to see the translated language in real time in a heads-up display. while the other person is talking. : allow people who have had communication problems with their loved ones to talk easily. It was heartwarming and an incredible look at what augmented reality could do for us in the very near future.
And that, dear reader, is all the Google hardware that was announced at this year’s software/services-focused Google I/O conference. Again, we were hoping for some material and ended up with a truck load. Nobody’s complaining, but the sudden change paints a very different picture for Google here in 2022, and it’s certainly exciting.