All the ways Google caught up with (or surpassed) Apple today
Google is keeping a keen eye on Apple — and promising to do everything faster, better and cheaper than Cupertino. That’s the takeaway from today’s impressive Google event, during which the world got its first look at tons of new services, devices and features coming soon to a screen near you.
Here are all the ways Google answered Apple at the San Francisco event, a few ways Google surged ahead — and some gratuitous jabs at Cupertino.
Nexus Imprint is the official name for Google’s new fingerprint scanner, which — while it sits on the back of the powerful new line of Nexus devices — is basically the same thing as Apple’s Touch ID sensor. Google promises its tech is super-fast in unlocking payment options and apps along with the phone itself.
Gratuitous Apple jab: Dave Burke clearly said al-u-min-i-um when he unveiled the Nexus 6P, the first all-metal Nexus smartphone (“aeronautical-grade anodized aluminium,” to be exact — Jony Ive would be proud).
Now on Tap
Revealed earlier this year, Now on Tap puts Google Search anywhere and provides deeper contextual information. Sounds a bit like Siri’s new Proactive features like Siri Suggestions. Google’s definitely got the upper hand when it comes to search, but adding these features shortly after the launch of Apple’s speed-focused iOS 9 surely feels like playing catch-up. File this one under “better.”
Here’s an Apple Care alternative that covers your shiny new Nexus devices for two years. It’s priced at $60 for Nexus 5X and $89 for Nexus 6P, which is less than Apple Care. There’s the “cheaper” option.
Google almost name-checked Apple Watch when reminding keynote attendees that Android-powered timepieces come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, unlike their rival’s hot new wearable. Whether that makes them better or not is debatable, but round smartwatches sure look cool.
Gratuitous Apple jab: You can always see the time, Sabrina Ellis reminded us, unlike “other” watches. The sarcasm was strong with this one.
Google Play Music Family Plan
Poor Eunice Kim and her husband had to purchase two separate Google Play Music subscriptions so she could crank up the East Coast rap she loves without interrupting her hubby’s jams. Google’s new family plan solves that problem — and costs exactly the same as Apple Music’s offering: $15 for up to six family members. The only way this will have a chance of being better than Apple Music is if you don’t have to join all the accounts under one credit card.
Smart Burst and Slow-Motion Video
Now you can hold the camera button down on your Android device and it will take a burst of pictures in a row, just like iOS does. While Apple created a new feature called Live Photos, which turns your photos into little animations, Google has rolled this into Smart Burst, which lets you create an animated GIF from your photo bursts. Google also finally catches up with Apple on the slo-mo front, letting you take slow-motion video without having to resort to editing apps.
Google seriously beefed up its smartphones’ cameras, with a smaller pixel size in the Sony-built 12.3-megapixel camera on each new Nexus device, resulting in better low-light capabilities than even the iPhone 6s. This leapfrogging is typical in the smartphone arena, and may bring in a few more camera buffs than expected.
Android Sensor Hub
This new system inside the Nexus devices sounds a lot like Apple’s M-series motion co-processor. It tracks different motions, including steps, and delivers that data to health apps on your Nexus.
Google Photos brings new features that help it compete with Apple’s iCloud photo library, which already does some of these things. We’re giving the new search features from Google the thumbs up, though, as they will make labeling people (Faces on iOS) and places (locations) worth the time and effort. Plus, sharing group albums seems much easier than on Apple’s iCloud system, meaning more snapshots will get passed around.
Gratuitous Apple jab: Anil Sabharwal and his wife have way too many photos to take the time to share them with grandparents, but they had time to go “apple picking” for the demo. Is that really the fruit Google should be using?
Here’s a “cheaper” alternative to Apple’s “hobby,” the Apple TV, which just got support for native apps and its own App Store. Google gave its video $35 Chromecast device a new look, but it’s all catch-up here. Aside from the fact that you can put a Chromecast dongle in your pocket, the only real difference is that Google’s product uses the computing power of your smartphone, while the new Apple TV will do much of its own processing. (Oh, and Chromecast works with Chrome, so it’s OS-agnostic.)
The refreshed Chromecast interface was much needed, including new features like the ability to figure out which apps on your smartphone support Chromecast — Apple could use something similar.
As for the new Chromecast Audio, Apple fans have been using Airport Express devices since the early 2000s to do the same thing. It’s a cute device, and it only costs $35, but how many of us really have speakers that aren’t already Bluetooth-capable but take an audio-in jack?
Aw, poor Apple. Cupertino just got native Apple TV gaming set up for a fall release, and Google comes in and lets anyone with a smartphone and an enabled app run multiplayer games on Chromecast. That’s a killer feature, and one that made me order my own video Chromecast dongle, even if the only game that does this so far is Angry Birds Go.
Pixel C tablet
As far as specs go, Apple’s iPad Pro rules the roost, but Google’s new Pixel C tablet (the “C” apparently stands for “convertible,” not USB-C) is definitely coming in cheaper. There’s an “almost full-sized” keyboard that uses Bluetooth and hides behind the tablet when you don’t need it, and the tablet itself pretty capable with an Nvidia X1 processor, Maxwell GPU and 3GB of RAM. It’s also got a super-bright display running at 2,560-by-1,800-pixel resolution with a 500 nit brightness measurement (which is cool if you know what a nit is). It’ll run you either $500 or $600, depending on size, while the keyboard is a cool $149.
Gratuitous Apple jab: The Pixel C doesn’t come with a stylus, because Google’s tablet obviously doesn’t need such a frivolous item. Also, it won’t have the kind of responsiveness Apple so clearly spent time on.
Fashion and flair
If there’s one thing Apple knows how to do, it’s present a keynote, and while the untucked shirt is slowly fading out at Cupertino’s recent events, the house that Tim Cook runs puts on a clean show. The Google folks today were a mixed lot, fashion-wise, with fancy-cuffed button-down (and untucked) shirts on some execs, while others ran the gamut from off-the-rack suits to weird skater-boy T-shirts and distressed skinny jeans.
There was a lot of information to cover today, but a lot of it seemed barely rehearsed, read off prompters that must have been below the camera screen: There was a lot of looking down at notes. None of Google’s presenters evinced much charisma, regardless of how much product they put in their hair.
And the end of the event was so abrupt it was as if Google’s brain trust had suddenly disappeared behind the curve of the moon, mid-sentence. Google may want to present itself as the underdog propellerhead geek squad, but there’s a ton of room for improvement here.
P.S. If you missed the keynote this morning, here’s the entire archive for your viewing pleasure.
Additional reporting by Lewis Wallace.