This year ‘s Google I / O talk was full of hardware announcements, which is unusual since it’ s usually a case of focusing on software and services. The most exciting of these was the news that Google plans to return to the Android tablet market next year and that it will also release its first smartwatch – the Pixel Watch – later in 2022.
Google gave a few different reasons for changing its mind. But the most interesting of these was a comment from Google’s vice president of product management, Sameer Samat, who talked about the benefits that a tablet device could have for the Pixel ecosystem in general. “I think consumer expectations have also changed over time,” Samat said. “The telephone is certainly extremely important, but it also becomes very clear that there are other device form factors that are complementary and also crucial for the consumer who decides which ecosystem to buy and which ecosystem to live on. [in]. »
In other words, building a Pixel tablet (and a Pixel Watch) is not just important because Google wants customers to buy these specific devices. It is also important if Google wants to buy into the Pixel ecosystem as a whole. Pixel phones are not going to stop being important, but Google wants people to know that after buying a Google smartphone, there are a number of accessories such as smartwatches, headphones and tablets that are designed to go perfectly with it. And once they have purchased the perfect Pixel accessory, there is a good chance that they will remain in the smartphone brand for their next upgrade.
It’s a similar approach to the “walled garden” that Apple used (often aggressively) to turn it into a $ 2 trillion company. IPhones can deliver a lot of common tasks to Macs, which can be used to control iPads that work best with AirPods. Apple Fitness workouts can be controlled on an Apple Watch and streamed to your Apple TV. IMessage requires you and all your friends to use iPhone. You understand the idea.
Apple believes so much in its ecosystem that it sometimes prioritizes its enclosed garden over the quality of its individual products. The HomePod is a prime example: designed to work only with the iPhone, it would be objectively more useful and probably sell more units if it allowed you to stream via Bluetooth and not just Apple’s AirPlay standard. But like observed analyst Benedict Evans At the time, the purpose of the HomePod was probably never to be sold in huge numbers, but simply to give iPhone owners who bought it another reason to stay at Apple for their next phone purchase.
I do not think Google would ever plan to build the same types of walls around its garden. The company’s core advertising business is based on working on a scale that surpasses even a huge company like Apple, and this open-ended approach has allowed Android to control about 75 percent of the global smartphone market. Google has been working for years to make Android phones work better with Windows, and Wear OS is designed to be iOS compatible. The release of a smartwatch and tablet under the Google brand will not change that.
Google’s approach is likely to be more subtle, similar to the approach Apple uses with its AirPods. Wear OS is already at its best when paired with an Android phone. And Google’s software is often designed to be multi-compatible, such as how ChromeOS provides support for running Android applications. However, after years of leaving the material to other companies, Google’s focus seems to be shifting to a combined hardware and software approach. The Pixel Watch will definitely work on almost all Android devices (iPhone support is less obvious), but I would be very surprised if it did not work better with Pixel phones.
But now it seems to find the limits of this approach, mainly because it contradicts the ambitions of some other companies for the ecosystem. I’m talking about Samsung, the largest maker of Android tablets and, since last year, the maker of the highest profile Wear OS smartwatches. However, despite the use of Google operating systems, Samsung devices have always pushed their users towards the Samsung ecosystem.
Take last year’s Galaxy Watch 4, which saw Samsung finally use the Wear OS on one of its smartwatches instead of its own Tizen operating system. But while it seems to be embracing the Google ecosystem, in practice the smartwatch has always been loyal to Samsung. It used Samsung Pay instead of Google Pay, Bixby instead of Google Assistant and was packed with Samsung apps like Calendar, Calculator and Contacts instead of Google’s. It can synchronize settings from Samsung phones and uses the Samsung system to automatically switch headphones under the Galaxy name.
“If you are a Samsung user, the Galaxy Watch 4 is a great smartwatch. “If you are not, the Galaxy Watch 4 forces you to enter the Samsung ecosystem,” said my former colleague Dieter Bohn in his review.
The same goes for tablets. When my colleague Dan Seifert looked at the Tab S8 earlier this year, he found many handy features that really only mattered to users with other Samsung devices. Galaxy Buds would automatically switch between a tablet and a Samsung phone, and the tablet could also enable the phone’s mobile hotspot. “After years of not seeing a great reason to buy an Android tablet, I have to admit that Samsung has come up with an exciting proposition this time – provided you are already in the Samsung Android ecosystem,” he wrote.
Samsung’s approach shows neatly where the incentives are for consumer technology companies these days. Sure, they could design their products to integrate seamlessly with all of Google’s hardware, applications, and services. Or, if you are the largest smartphone maker in the world, you could try using one of these installations to your advantage, encouraging your existing customers to get a smartwatch or tablet to top up their phone. And who would consider switching to a Google Pixel or a OnePlus once it comes with a full range of Samsung technology?
From the beginning of the Pixel series, Google has tried to combine a limited focus on hardware with extensive software support. But ecosystems are important, and in 2022, if you do not control both your hardware and your software, then you will let another company do it better – and maybe even park its platform just above yours.