At Google’s Pixel 3 event, it’s all about the data

The secret weapon in all of this? The Google Assistant, a digital helper akin to Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. The software is designed to use your voice to turn off the lights, lock your doors or read out the morning’s headlines. Google wanted to get the Assistant into as many devices as possible. But to show consumers what the software could do, Google decided it needed to build its own hardware to demonstrate its abilities.

Google Lens, a tool that lets people look up information on real world objects by pointing their smartphone cameras at them, was first launched exclusively on the Pixel 2. And the Assistant was initially released with Google Home and the company’s Allo chat app (though Google has paused development on that service).

“They’ve used Pixel as something of a vessel in demonstrating their AI prowess,” Rubin said. “These are definitely showcase pieces.”

The strategy is paying off. In May, Google announced that 500 million devices have shipped globally with the Assistant on them, including speakers, phones and TVs. The Assistant now partners with 5,000 household connected devices, up from 1,500 in January.

Still, Google has a long way to go. When it comes to the battle for smart speakers, Amazon remains the champ. The e-commerce giant’s Echo devices own 44 percent of the smart speaker market globally. Google Home holds 27 percent, according to a report by Strategy Analytics.

The downside of data

As Google tries to swallow up more of your personal information, Silicon Valley companies have been increasingly scrutinized for their data collection practices. Facebook brought the issue to the forefront in March after its Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a UK-based digital consultancy harvested data on 87 million Facebook users without their permission.

Google has felt some of that blowback, too. In July, the company was criticized after reports that employees for a third-party email app could read our emails if we integrated those apps with our Gmail account. Google was hammered again a month later, when the Associated Press revealed the company was tracking users’ locations even after they’d turned off their phones’ location history setting.

Last month, Google’s Chief Privacy Officer Keith Enright — alongside representatives from other tech and telecom giants including Apple, Amazon and AT&T — testified before the Senate to discuss privacy practices in Silicon Valley. Google CEO Sundar Pichai is reportedly expected to take the hot seat in another congressional hearing after the US midterm elections in November.

As Google products become more of a fixture in people’s homes, the scrutiny is sure to intensify. The company should probably address those issues proactively at its hardware event, instead of waiting for issues to pop up and fester, said Bob O’Donnell, principal analyst at Technalysis Research.

“I fully expect they are going to need to start to make public statements about privacy,” he said. “Google’s been way behind the times. They really risk some trust issues down the road.”