Google takes on Apple with Pixel 8 that’s more like the iPhone


By Mark Gurman and Vlad Savov | Bloomberg

Google is looking to challenge Apple Inc. head-on with new Pixel phones that are more iPhone-like than ever before.

This year’s Pixel 8 and 8 Pro are closer in price to Apple’s counterparts, have similar flat-edged screens and can make payments with face identification. Alphabet Inc.’s Google introduced its new lineup Wednesday — including fresh watches and earbuds — and raised the starting price of its phones by $100 each.

The Pixel 8 Pro matches the iPhone 15 Pro at $999, while the Pixel 8 costs the same as the iPhone 14 at $699. The new prices reflect the upgraded displays and cameras used in the latest devices, which are still “punching above our weight class,” according to Google product manager Patrick Hennessey, suggesting that consumers are getting more for their money.

The Pixel rollout is Google’s latest attempt to make a dent in the market. Though its Android operating system runs the majority of the world’s smartphones, the company’s own hardware accounts for just a fraction of sales. In the US, Google had 3% of smartphone shipments during the second quarter, according to Counterpoint Research. That compares with 55% for Apple.

Google has sold phones under its own brand for more than a decade, but the introduction of the first Pixel in 2016 deepened the effort. Despite the phones struggling to gain commercial traction, Google’s camera and artificial intelligence features have stood out. Last year, the company expanded its lineup with the Pixel Watch, building out its hardware ecosystem.

Apple, the trailblazer in pushing up the cost of a smartphone, recently raised prices again, taking its latest iPhone 15 Pro Max to $1,199 by discontinuing a cheaper storage capacity. Google has slightly improved its market share with cheaper models, which it typically releases in the middle of each year. In Japan, the company’s market share was six times bigger this summer than last, as it stole cost-conscious users away from the iPhone.

The new Pixel phones have updated cameras, adopt displays with flat edges — as Apple has had since the iPhone 12 in 2020 — and come with the promise of seven years of updates for the operating system and security. Internally, they use the third generation of Google’s in-house Tensor processor, which includes dedicated hardware for image processing fine-tuned by the company.

The Pro model has a 6.7-inch screen, matching Apple’s largest display option, while the lower-end version has a 6.2-inch screen. That display is slightly smaller than the 6.3-inch screen on last year’s comparable offering. Both new phones have increased brightness, and the basic model also improves the refresh rate. That allows for smoother scrolling and better gaming graphics.

And Google’s face unlock feature now has improved security. The Mountain View, California-based company will let it unlock banking apps and confirm transactions, matching Apple Face ID features introduced in 2017.

Google also is rolling out on-device generative AI — which can create text and video based on simple prompts — and integrating the technology into its new Pixel Pro phones. That means its so-called foundation models will run on the devices themselves.

“We worked closely with our research teams across Google to take advantage of their most advanced foundation models, and distill them into a version efficient enough to run on our flagship Pixel,” devices chief Rick Osterloh said Wednesday at an event at Google’s Pier 57 office in New York.

The approach means the Pixel 8 Pro will be able to do things like generate concise summaries of recordings — to recap highlights from a meeting, for example — or suggest smarter reply suggestions, Osterloh said. The new on-device generative AI image model, meanwhile, will let users create zoomed-in photos that are “intelligently” sharpened.

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