Google has built intense speculation for its Oct. 4 event in San Francisco, where it’s expected to reveal new phones aimed at consumers that will power a new virtual reality platform, and possibly, other smart-home devices.
Now that the buzz has reached a football-stadium roar, here comes the hard part: living up to the hype.
Google has been teasing the event as one for the history books. A tweet Monday from Hiroshi Lockheimer, the company’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome OS and Google Play, turned up the volume.
“We announced the 1st version of Android 8 years ago today,” Lockheimer wrote in the tweet that has been retweeted more than 2,200 times. “I have a feeling 8 years from now we’ll be talking about Oct 4, 2016.”
In the days since Google sent out the invitations to the media, the company has set up a website, https://madeby.google.com/, and put up large billboards in New York and other cities in the U.S. featuring the silhouette of a phone centered around the hashtag, #madebyGoogle.
Google has gone so far as to erect statues with the rectangle outline in Brooklyn and Sydney, Australia.
What does this all point to? A likely candidate: New phones from manufacturer HTC, taking on the Pixel brand the company used with its Chromebook and tablet efforts. Rumors and leaks point to devices with large displays — 5-inches for the Pixel and 5.5-inches for the larger Pixel XL, fast processors, improved cameras and sleek aluminum and glass designs. Both phones are expected to have headphone jacks, according to the website Android Police, which has provided many of the leaked details around the phones and Google’s event.
A Google spokesperson declined to comment.
It is through Pixel that Google will likely make its biggest play yet for consumers when it comes to phones.
“They clearly are positioning themselves very differently than they have in the past and I think that is why the rumor is they are going to use the Pixel brand as opposed to the Nexus,” says Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis in New Jersey.
“It (Nexus) was really not aimed at mainstream consumers,” Greengart says. “Based on their advertising campaign alone, it’s fairly clear that whatever they are announcing on the fourth will be aimed at mainstream consumers, if for no other reason than Google is spending a lot of money telling them about it.”
Mobile is also the path Google is taking as it preps its new virtual reality platform called Daydream, foreshadowed at its May developer conference as a big move up from the Google Cardboard-based VR experience that helped consumers experience early VR at a low cost.
Google has said it will release new headsets for Daydream that will work with powerful Android phones that have enough processing power to solve image delays. That arrangement would follow a similar model to Samsung’s Gear VR headsets that work with certain Samsung phones.
The new platform puts Google into sharper competition with Facebook’s Oculus, the HTC Vive and Sony’s forthcoming PlayStation VR, due for release the week after Google’s big event.
Stoking the competition between the two tech giants: Oculus has its own major developer event the following day on Oct. 5. In recent days, Facebook has faced some heat from software developers over Oculus founder Palmer Luckey’s financial backing of a pro-Donald Trump alt-right group that has smeared presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Oculus’ struggles could open a door for Google if Daydream lives up to the growing hype. Since announcing the virtual-reality platform earlier this year Google has provided few details on it.
Another area of major interest: Google Home, the Amazon Echo rival smart-speaker. Whereas phones may be the emphasis for getting to users wherever they go, Home is the target for keeping them connected to Google when they are at home.
By integrating the company’s artificial intelligence-powered Google Assistant, users can do everything from control Internet-connected lights, adjust thermostats or play music using nothing but their voice. Popularized by Amazon’s Echo, smart speakers have become the latest battleground for tech companies. Last week, Bloomberg reported that Apple was working on its own smart speaker powered by Siri, slated for next year.
As with Daydream, Google has revealed few details on Home since showing it off briefly at I/O, raising plenty of questions on when it will arrive, how much it will cost and the functionality it will offer.
Phones, virtual reality and smart speakers are the big expectations for Oct 4. But there’s more. Rumors over the past few weeks point to an updated Google Chromecast that will be capable of displaying higher resolution 4K content, an updated Wi-Fi router and potentially even a new Android tablet made by Huawei, who made last year’s Nexus 6P smartphone.
Hardware isn’t everything, with reports this week pointing to Google introducing new software called Andromeda that will combine Android and the company’s Chrome OS that is found on laptops. The new software has the potential to unify Google’s software and may play a big role for the company going forward.
Even so, analysts say none of these innovations would back up Lockheimer’s bold statement — at least not right away.
“There is nothing that Google can have next week that will initially be seen as significant as the launch of Android does in hindsight,” says Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, noting that at its launch it wasn’t clear that Android would become as important as it has.
And therein lies the risk to Google.
“It’s dangerous,” Dawson says. “I think it’s inevitably going to seem disappointing. I think they would be better off just announcing what they are going to announce and letting people discover the significance over time.”
Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal
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