On October 4th, Google revealed a slew of brand new toys that are meant to form a cohesive ecosystem. This is something that they've never had before, at least not one that they could truly call their own. Sure, you could own a Nexus Player, Chromecast, Chromebook, and Nexus phone, but your most "Google-y" option for IoT integration was Nest, your virtual assistant could never leave your phone, and on the VR side of things, anything beyond a Cardboard experience was out of your reach without venturing outside of Google's wheelhouse. All of the things that they announced fix those issues, sure, but that's not the end of their purpose.
For starters, Google is looking to make a unified set of hardware platforms that show clear integration and direction. They want, in essence, to be the purveyor of your digital life. In order to help with that, they've stopped putting out whatever hardware their R&D people happen to think up, and have put former Motorola CEO Rick Osterloh at the head of a new hardware department. If any hardware is to be released under Google's flag, Rick Osterloh has to see it and approve it first. While that may sound decidedly Apple-esque, it's certainly not entirely a bad thing. Those willing to commit to the ecosystem will find themselves well rewarded with a cohesive hardware and software experience. Google Home, for example, can pick out the best device in your house to listen to you with, rather than taking an approach similar to Amazon's Echo, which uses an array of directional microphones to pick up a user's voice throughout the home. A user having a grand time with Daydream VR playing a game could suddenly decide that they'd rather watch a movie, feel their way to the couch, and shout, "OK Google, show me Fast Times At Ridgemont High," and Assistant would make their wish come true. That is, of course, just one example; Assistant is still in its infancy as a platform, and its capabilities can only grow. Shopping, chatting, web searches, and more can already be done over Assistant. That great experience at home is ensured to be portable by the inclusion of Assistant on the new Pixel devices, though there is a way to enable a potentially buggy Assistant unofficially on most Nougat devices. The Pixels, however, currently are Google's flagship, and the phones that will "do it best". A cohesive, Google Android experience is the name of the game with Pixel, and the sheer number of tweaks and exclusive features in Android 7.1 (Nougat) should be more than enough to make that clear.
So, the big question is, "Why is Google suddenly jumping so hard into the hardware game?" The answer, of course, is relevance. Searching the web is fading fast from the spotlight in favor of bots, apps, and entire platforms that do more for a user more quickly than a simple web search. If Google wants in on that future, they'll have to have their own platforms; they have Assistant for interfacing, and Google Play for content. Between the two, all Google really needs is the hardware to create a consistent user experience, and they can be in on the new wave of human to computer interaction. Google's grand gambit here is not to make a consumer splash hit right off the bat, of course. While that may be possible with Pixel thanks to the debacle that was the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, according to Rick Osterloh, that's not their real aim with this first round of hardware products. Instead, they are trying to gauge if their products and experience can hold water in the consumer market, and what they can tweak to make it better. They also are looking to score valuable relationships with the likes of retailers and wireless carriers, a venture that's already paid off with Verizon having a temporary exclusive on the Pixel devices for customers in the US who want to buy one from their carrier. Assistant is poised to supplant every other assistant out there thanks to Google's obsession with machine learning in AI, and their hardware platform seems pretty solid; only time will tell if consumers take to it, and more importantly, what Google will do differently with the next generation.