Everybody copies everybody. It doesn’t mean they’re “out of ideas” or “in a technological cul-de-sac” — or at least it doesn’t necessarily mean that — it does mean they want to make money and keep users. It’s actually one of my favorite elements of the tech industry. It’s self-regulating in a small way, because there’s a certain shame to, say, copying GoPro or Meerkat or Snapchat or Dropbox, but sometimes a product category or feature is just irresistible.
At today’s Pixel event, Google hit a lot of pre-existing categories and features with its own Google-branded hardware. And to clarify once more, because I don’t want to be misunderstood: I’m not saying this is bad or dumb or unethical or boring, I’m just saying it’s kind of obvious where the “inspiration” came from.
1. Google made an iPhone
More specifically, Google made an iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus with the iPhone 7’s spec upgrades. The Pixel and Pixel XL are 5-inch and 5.5-inch, respectively. They’re phones. They have visible antenna lines and brushed aluminum backs. They have headphone jacks. They aren’t waterproof. You could probably call your loved ones on them!
Obviously, when you’re talking about slabs of glass, it’s easy to say that they all look the same. Subjectively, I’d say there’s something sort of iPhone-ish to these two phones that I don’t see in, say, recent Nexus devices, or even the HTC 10. Maybe I’m just crazy. But aesthetics aside, Google was very clear that software / hardware integration is what’s key about Pixel. And software / hardware integration is Apple’s whole bit.
2. Google made a Gear VR
It’s become a bit of a high risk hobby in the Android world to ship your own VR headset with your latest flagship phone, but Samsung did it first and best by partnering with Oculus and shipping Gear VR in time crazy holiday sales last year. Google’s launching Daydream View, the “Gear VR” in this equation, and also making the Daydream software and store, the “Oculus” in this equation.
Daydream actually stands out from the competition for two reason: it will work with phones from any manufacturer that matches Google’s spec (currently only the Pixel and Pixel XL are announced), and it comes with a really cool controller that mimics some of what you can do with a Vive or PlayStation VR controller.
Oh, actually, three reasons: it looks like a really comfortable sweatshirt for your head.
3. Google made an Echo
This is near the top of my “shameless” chart, mostly because Amazon’s Echo speaker currently occupies a category of one. Echo is a voice-controlled speaker, and it’s turned into an unlikely hit for a myriad of reason. Amazon’s Alexa, the voice and brains of Echo, is a virtual assistant people don’t hate. It’s surprisingly nice to ask it to play music for you, or to set an alarm. The third party “skills” have breathed new life into the internet of things. Who would’ve thought a few years ago that the best way to turn your Philips Hue light bulbs on and off would be a talking cylinder?
Google’s new Google Home speaker is a slightly squashed Echo clone. It’s $ 50 cheaper, and has Google Assistant for a brain. It plays YouTube Music. It comes with a YouTube Red subscription. Google’s search prowess could make all the difference here, but conceptually and spiritually Google Home is an Echo.
4. Google made an Eero
“I haven’t heard of it so it doesn’t count” won’t work in a court of law, and it won’t work here. Eero has a much lower profile than the rest of these products, but it’s still a great idea whose time has come: mesh networking for consumers. Instead of relying on a single great Wi-Fi router, as Google has attempted with its OnHub partnerships, Eero spreads the load, and the coverage, over a number of Wi-Fi routers and simplifies the placement and setup of these routers through an app.
Great idea, right? Google thought so.
Google Wifi is basically an Eero, only for cheaper. It’s $ 129 for a single Google Wifi, or $ 299 for a three pack. Eero is $ 199 for one and $ 499 for three. The big standout difference to my eyes is Google Wifi is a bit taller and more cylindrical than Eero, so I guess that’s something. This is my number one shameless move, just because Amazon is a big boy and can take care of itself, Eero is a small upstart that will likely be entirely eclipsed by Google Wifi.
5. Google made a Chromecast
(Honorable mention for not really copying anybody.)
I just wanted to point out that while the original Chromecast wasn’t exactly the first HDMI stick computer, it popularized the genre and remains hard to beat thanks to its integration with Chrome and a myriad of apps and media services. The new Chromecast Ultra does it all in 4K, and even adds an Ethernet port. So credit where credit’s due.