There’s no doubt who the titans are in the mobile biz. Apple and Samsung are the twin Godzillas battling for market share in the handset game. Many upstarts have come and gone, and many formerly big brands have fallen to distant competition.
Remember when everyone was addicted to “Crackberries”? Yeah, there’s an entire generation coming up that never even knew someone who had a Blackberry. What about Nokia and the coveted “talkie” feature that essentially turned your phone into a set of walkie-talkies? That’s become a relic of history as well.
Some wondered if there was a company big enough and brave enough to challenge the big dogs in the market. Amazon tried, failed, and now they’re trying again. Smart money said the only other company out there with enough name recognition, and deep enough pockets was Google, but the search engine company stayed out of the mobile fray. Until now.
Google recently unleashed the Pixel, a smartphone not only “powered by” but also manufactured by Google. This is a huge step for a company known only for the software it makes to run on other phones by companies like Samsung and LG. But the Pixel is Google’s baby from concept to completion.
The move is fraught with risk, as it pits Google in direct competition with Apple on yet another front of the global tech war. And it put Google in the interesting position of being in competition with the companies that have been delivering their software to consumers by the millions. During the event where the phone was debuted, Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained his company’s motivation to enter this fierce market in two words: artificial intelligence.
AI is the new frontier for computing. Making consumer-friendly, effective, and reliable artificial intelligence is a huge goal for all current tech companies. From big data engines to personal handset assistants like Siri, companies are vying to create and market the most responsive and “smartest” AI possible. Google wants to corner the market on that delivery, but they can’t do so if they don’t control the market directly. For Google, having a direct link to the customer is vital if they are to set the pace in the development of AI.
Google’s current iteration of consumer AI is called Google Assistant, which, they say, can help users plan their day, a vacation weekend or even a night out with friends, simply by executing a series of commands and requests. This has more in common with Amazon’s Alexa protocol than with Apple’s Siri application, but that doesn’t mean both of these companies are not all trying to get to the same place. All three want to be the first and the best to develop the sort of AI interaction so far only seen in Sci-Fi movies, where humans can “talk” to computers and the computers respond almost as another human would.
The first company to create that narrative will be seen as the industry standard-bearer and true innovator, and Google can’t achieve that status playing second fiddle to another handset brand.
David Milberg is an experienced credit analyst in NYC.