Media analysts take cellphone pictures of Google’s new Pixel 2 cell phones unveiled Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Google launches new phones and other gadgets in hardware push

SAN FRANCISCO — Google continued its push into hardware and its battle for market share against Apple, Amazon and Samsung with the October release of new phones, virtual-assistance devices, a computer, a standalone camera and headphones.

The suite of products represents integration of artificial intelligence, hardware and software, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said.

“The rate at which we are seeing progress with AI is amazing, which is why we are really excited about combining it with hardware and software to bring it together for our users,” Pichai said.

After launching its first house-made phone, the Pixel, exactly a year ago, Google announced two new versions, the Pixel 2 with a 5-inch screen, starting at $649, and the Pixel 2 XL with a 6-inch screen, starting at $849. Following Apple’s lead, the new Pixels, like the newer iPhones, lack a headphone jack — they come with an adapter for plugging in headphones.

And a little over a year after introducing the Google Home virtual-assistance device, the Mountain View search giant launched two new virtual assistants. The Google Home Mini is a small round device costing $49 and is now available in stores. The other assistance device is the music-focused $399 Google Home Max, a much larger gadget with two large bass speakers and dual tweeters, scheduled to hit the market in December.

Google also announced a new laptop, the Pixelbook, a slim, light computer with a 12.3-inch touchscreen, starting at $999. To go with the Pixelbook, Google is selling a $99 Pixelbook Pen, which can be used to highlight portions of photos, for example, to bring up information on what’s depicted.

While the company highlighted the features of the camera on the new Pixel 2, it also announced its first standalone camera. The Google Clip, attached to an object and aimed at a scene, uses artificial intelligence to identify the best moments and take photos and short videos. Google said the device, priced at $249, was “coming soon.”

Rounding out the new offerings were touch-controlled Pixel Bud earphones, for $159, available for pre-order now and scheduled to become available in November.

With the new phones, Google will continue to seek inroads against Apple’s iPhone dominance. Success will depend on broadened reach and unique phone-based offerings including augmented reality (AR), which can overlay real-world imagery with graphics, sound, video or data, said Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead.

“To gain market share against Apple, Google will need to bring more differentiated features like world-view AR to the table and also significantly increase carrier and country distribution,” Moorhead said.

Although Google’s Android operating system for phones covers some 89 percent of the market, only about 2.8 million of the company’s house-made Pixel phones have been sold since their October 2016 unveiling, according to research firm IDC. Apple’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were released about two weeks before the Pixels, but by July, about 48 million of them had been sold in the U.S. alone, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

In September, Apple unveiled three new phones: the iPhone 8 for $700 with a 4.7-inch screen; the 8 Plus for $800 with a 5.5-inch screen; and the iPhone X for $1,000 with a 5.8-inch screen.

To amp up its Pixels and other hardware, Google is spending $1.1 billion to buy a unit of HTC, a longtime manufacturing partner. The deal gives Google the HTC team that helped build the first Pixels, plus access to intellectual property, the companies said.

Google has also set itself up against Amazon with the $129 Google Home virtual-assistance device, launched in November. The market for these devices is expanding rapidly — eMarketer projected in May that nearly 36 million Americans would use one at least once a month, a 129 percent jump over last year. But the Home still trails far behind Amazon’s flagship virtual assistant, the “Echo,” which eMarketer predicted would take 71 percent of the market this year, compared to 24 percent for the Home.

The market-intelligence firm said it expected Amazon’s market share for the gadgets to decline slightly in coming years as Google’s share grows, but it also said Amazon would “remain the dominant player in the category for the foreseeable future.”

Apple, however, is expected to bring to market in December its $350 “HomePod” virtual assistant, which will mean more competition for Google and Amazon.

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