Whereas the Alphabet subsidiary's Nexus phones (apparently being discontinued) have been sold only by Google itself and a handful of retailers, major carriers will also sell the 5-inch Pixel and 5.5-inch Pixel XL. Verizon is Google's exclusive U.S. carrier provider for the phones, and top British carrier EE appears to have a similar role in the U.K. The phones will also be available through Google's Project Fi mobile/Wi-Fi service, which relies on Sprint and T-Mobile's networks.
The relatively high prices being charged by Google are also a change of pace: The Pixel and Pixel XL, respectively, start at $649 and $769, or the same starting prices Apple has set, respectively, for the iPhone 7 and 7-Plus. Whereas Nexus phone buyers have typically had to pay the full price of a phone up-front, Pixel buyers will have access to carrier installment and smartphone upgrade plans, which in turn makes higher prices more palatable to consumers.
Another change: While hardware wasn't exactly an afterthought with Nexus phones, the main selling point of the devices, other than their reasonable prices, was the fact they ran "stock" Android. This meant they lacked a custom interface such as Samsung's TouchWiz, and could upgrade to the latest version of Android faster than most other phones. To a large extent, hardware design was handled by partners such as Huawei and LG.
This time, Google is selling users not just on stock Android, but also a premium end-to-end smartphone experience. While HTC is manufacturing the Pixel phones, Google insists HTC's role is no different from Foxconn's role in manufacturing iPhones.
At its annual hardware event one year ago, Alphabet Inc. unveiled the same gadgets Apple Inc. had earlier in the year, but at cheaper price points. This year, it went another way, unveiling two products in areas Apple has yet to enter at prices well lower than the iPhone maker typically touches.
Google Home Speaker. This Echo competitor retails for $129 while Amazon charges $180, speaks to the user in a conversational tone, similar to Echo, and has access to Google Search as well as a number of third-party apps, such as Spotify and Pandora. Users can also use their voice to cast YouTube content to any TV connected to a Chromecast, with integration expected from Netflix and other apps.
Apple could use a similar hub for Siri, which would allow users to use their voice to control their Apple TV device or interact with Siri in other ways that don’t involve using their hands. Apple also wants to get more into connected home devices, like Google’s Nest offering, and such a device would help in that area as well.
Virtual Reality Headset. Meanwhile, Google’s new fabric-laced VR headset will retail for $79, compared with $100 for Samsung’s Gear VR, and exclusive carrier partner Verizon Communications Inc. will offer the headset free with preorder of a Pixel. A major advantage for the Daydream View is that it could work with a number of different manufacturers’ phones (including Apple), as long as they have the Daydream app.
“It’s good that Google is championing VR today along with Samsung in mobility, but I don’t think Apple is missing out yet,” said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “Apple undoubtedly is doing research and has prototypes, but in true Apple form, won’t release an end user product until they feel they have nailed the experience.”