2016 has been an interesting year in many respects. Modular phones, the advance of Daydream and the Galaxy Note 7, being just a few of the examples of the big movements that have occurred over the past twelve months. However, one move which should certainly be considered to be a ‘big one’ is Google’s move from being just a software company to one which is also a hardware company. As this year, was the year in which Google bet big on hardware.
In fact, when you look back over the year now, it does become clear just how many Google-related hardware products have now come to market. Of course, most of them did drop during the big Google Oct. 4 event, but that was not the first time that some of them were announced. Instead, back at Google’s I/O event earlier in the year, the first indications that Google was now officially making in-roads to the hardware market surfaced. Although, regardless of whether a product was introduced at Google I/O or at the Oct. 4 event, the result is the same - we now have two Google Pixel smartphones, Google Home, Google Wifi and the Daydream View. All new products and all Google products.
While some might argue that products like the Pixel and the Pixel XL are not actually Google products (as they make use of a hardware manufacturer, like HTC), it does not take away from the fact that Google is marketing and pushing these as their devices. Hence, the 'G' branding and a complete lack of any branding that can be related to a manufacturer. And it is this G branding that is now the prevalent factor when you look back at 2016. Whichever of the mentioned Google-related products you pick up, the only branding you will find on them is the G. So while those ‘in the know’ might debate the origins of any of the devices, from the average consumer perspective, these are all very much 'Google products'. Something which has never really been the case in years gone by.
While Google-affiliated products have previously came through in various guises, like the Nexus range for instance. 2016 has seen Google bet big on that G branding and on the fact that people will want a hardware product that bears their logo and name. Which also seems to be a new development in the Alphabet era of Google. As before, Google always seemed somewhat hesitant in actually putting their money where their mouth is and bringing to market products that they can (and did) call their own. That is anything but the case this year as in addition to the swarm of Google-branded products that are now available, Google has also been investing heavily in the marketing of those products. Not only has Google released the hardware, but it has been making an unprecedented and concerted effort to make people aware that they exist and that they are Google products.
Of course, 2016 from Google was not all about hardware though. As this year also saw the company introduce its Google Assistant. While this is a software-based entity, in some respects, it does seem to be one which Google views as one of the bridges between its hardware ambitions and Android. This can be best seen with the way in which Google has brought its Assistant to market. While AI is generally considered to be big business in 2016, Google has made sure that a number of its major hardware offerings (like Google Home, the Pixel and the Pixel XL) all make use of Google Assistant at the hardware level. No OTT employment needed. You buy one of these devices and you just get Google Assistant. In some respects, it is the base of those products and certainly one of their major selling points put forward by Google. Not forgetting of course, those who have a non-Google-branded Android smartphone can also get in on the action by downloading Google’s latest messaging app, Allo. Which also comes powered by the Google Assistant.
So it does seem clear that while 2016 has been a year in which Google has pushed its own hardware, it is actually pushing much more than that. It is pushing a much more inclusive user experience, one where not only the hardware meets the software, but also where the two are joined by the use of aspects like the Google Assistant. Which inevitably does mean that we are now in for an interesting 2017. As this will be the first year that Google starts the year as an officially recognized hardware company. We will be looking at follow-up devices, as well as follow-on updates and improvements to the hardware-software bridge that is the Google Assistant. Not to mention, more Google and Android-related branches through the likes of Tango and Daydream, which look to further combine the overall ‘Google experience’. And so, as it stands, 2017 is going to be a very different year for those who follow Google news, and much like 2016 was. Although, the main difference being that this time last year, it was far less clear how important the upcoming year was going to be for Google.