Pixel 4 event was bad — but Apple could still learn something from Google

It was like watching Pitch Meeting, with Studio Guy asking how they were going to fill the runtime, with amazing new products and services? And Writer Guy responding, no, with excruciatingly slow design slam poetry and on-stage interviews. Will it be hard to have an event and show almost nothing off? Super easy, barely an inconvenience, about an hour in, we'll just say we have some much more to show you, but we've simply run out of time. And then cut off the event.

It was like watching Game of Thrones Season 8, offering them more episodes, begging them for more episodes, and just watching them mic drop and end it.. like that.

Anyway. The products and technology that did manage to somehow sneak out on stage was so good, that it almost makes up for the obvious lack of planning and organization that went into the event, and the extreme disrespect shown the audience, both live and streaming. Almost.

But, I'll complain later. Right now, I want to focus on the positive. That cool tech and what I very much think Apple can learn from it.

Face Unlock

We got to see more of the Pixel phones than we did the Pixel Book. Poor lappy little bastard. Whatever. The Pixel 4 uses similar if not the same facial geometry scanning tech as the iPhone has since 2017.

There are two main differences, though. First, there's a radar chip, formerly called Project Soli, now called MotionSense, and it's all housed in a huge forehead assembly.

It remains to be seen what, if any difference that makes. Google committed the classic blunder of introducing new chipsets, not feature sets.

Google committed the classic blunder of introducing new chipsets, not feature sets.

Like, Apple didn't say anything about the U1 spatial positioning chip in the iPhone 11 at the September event because there was nothing yet to say. When/if the Tags get announced, they'll focus on that.

Google showed tickle-me-Pikachu and Eeevee, which aligns with my personal interests, but is pure stunt at this point. And, actually, I think I'll be more excited about it when it comes to devices without displays, where it might be a primary control mechanism, like voice.

Anyway, the second difference is a setting that lets you choose if you want to see the lock screen or not.

With the iPhone, you have no choice. You see the lock screen unless and until you swipe up, which makes the whole Face ID system feel slow.

Letting us set it to open on unlock, if we want it that way, would be a terrific option and make Face ID feel as fast as it is.

Super Zoom

Google does this weird thing with Pixel camera presentations, where they go out of their way to mention they don't need certain commonly adopted camera hardware because their software is so good… only to add the exact hardware a year later.

Optical image stabilization, camera bump, a second camera. No one would even notice it if they didn't make such a big deal about not needing it… when it's obvious they do. This year it was ultra wide angle, so one guess as to what we'll see next year?

But, what they do with it, that's magic.

Google still found time to show off some really damn impressive digital zoom technology.

In between slagging Apple for "catching up" in semantics and fusion, while at the same time catching up to Apple in virtual lens modeling and portrait depth data, Google still found time to show off some really damn impressive digital zoom technology.

It builds on their existing super zoom software from last year by adding in the optical zoom of the new telephoto lens. And it looks terrific.

Home

Google has gone and done a lot of what I'd been hoping Apple would do for the home. What Apple typically does for a lot of things: Integrate. I got kinda confused over all the Home and Nest branding, but what Google basically did was combine their mesh Wi-Fi product with their home assistant and speaker product to make something that really is the best of many worlds.

Not only does it mean you have less stuff to buy, but it means the stuff you buy works better. Your assistant isn't on the network, it is the network, and your router isn't shielded away, it's out and on display.

I still think Apple killing, instead of evolving, the AirPort router was one of their biggest mistakes in the modern era. I'm going to do a whole video on this. Again. Because it's just so frustrating. But an Apple mesh router system that, sure, you could buy independently but would also come in every HomePod and every Apple TV, and could pair seamlessly with an iPad while charging it for bedroom or kitchen use would just be so killer. Like planet killer.

I don't want a Google box as the endpoint of my home internet connection. But right now, Apple, the privacy company, isn't doing anything to help with that crucial bit if infrastructure.

And this is one of the very few times I'll armchair spend their money and resources to say they absolutely should be.

Ambient computing

The beginning of Google's event was a complete structural mess, with them jumping around from product to product, as though they thought the narrative was tailing them and they wanted to lose it as quickly as possible.

But the overall theme was one very near and dear to me: Ambient computing.

It's going to be a huge part of the future, both far-field with the aforementioned room speakers, and near-field, with wireless headsets.

Google is winning at ambient computing because they're winning at the core assistant technology that will drive it.

And Google is winning here because they're winning at the core assistant technology that will drive it. Actually, Google and Amazon both.

Some will say Apple's privacy focus prevents them from collecting the data necessary to be competitive when it comes to assistants.

Bunk.

Apple essentially abandoned Siri after Steve Jobs died and Scott Forstall left, and they've only recently picked it up again with the hire of John Gianandrea.

There will be room for multiple assistants in the future, and owning the device means owning assistant one and having the opportunity to re-onboard with every new hardware and software release.

But, if we're going to get to SiriOS, a voice and AI layer that abstracts away a lot of everything else, there's precious little time to waste.

Siri is still inconsistent between devices and from one moment to the next, and just like Apple invested heavily in getting to the best silicon in the world last decade, they need to invest even more heavily in getting to the best AI in the world right now.

I mean, as long as I'm spending their money and resources.

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Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

29 Comments
  • very nice story
  • "So much great technology given so much short shift." Um, no. It was given short shrift.
  • "But an Apple mesh router system that, sure, you could buy independently but would also come in every HomePod" Homepods are already absurdly expensive. So much so, that no one is buying them. Adding in router hardware - that everyone already has, BTW - would make them around $500. Who - besides you - is going to buy that? "I still think Apple killing, instead of evolving, the AirPort router was one of their biggest mistakes in the modern era." No, it was not. Apple trying to sell a router was a huge mistake. An Apple router makes as much sense as a Netgear tablet. Leave networking (and tablets) to the experts. Seriously, everything in your house does not HAVE to have an Apple logo on it.
  • AirPort a huge mistake? Where else in the summer of 1999 could you buy an affordable Wi-Fi base station that "just worked?" It's pretty clear that Apple introducing AirPort base stations and network cards, along with Wi-Fi capable laptops with integrated antennas, was nothing short of brilliant. The reason Apple dropped AirPort seems to be that the technology had become commoditized and mainstream, and they wanted to focus on a smaller set of products where they could make something that was highly differentiated and obviously better than the competition. Nonetheless, I liked the AirPort devices and enjoyed how easy they were to administer, how they could transparently extend your network, and how you could plug in speakers (which showed up in AirPlay), printers, and hard drives. My main complaint at the time was that attached USB storage didn't automatically work with Time Machine, as it should have.
  • I agree, Apple's routers weren't just any old router, they were extremely easy to set up and configure, and they weren't bad routers in terms of the technology either. Many routers use a web-based interface which looks like a webpage from the 90s (which is also not mobile-friendly) and provide no hints as to what anything means.
  • Apple routers were so great and sold so well, they were discontinued. That's all you need to know. Companies don't kill successful products. Clearly, Apple realized there was no reason to be selling routers. Again, an Apple router makes as much sense as a Netgear tablet. Leave networking (and tablets) to the experts. Both Apple and Netgear understand this. Apparently, it is beyond the comprehension of some people.
  • Naddy, unfortunately, DannyJJK has drank so much apple flavored Kool-Aid that ANYTHING that apple does is the second coming. You should know that now.
  • Not really, you've seen me criticize them many times. Did you ever have an Airport router?
  • I have not witnessed you criticize apple once. You keep saying it but it does not make it true.
  • lol what? You asked me this a while back and I showed you comments where I criticised them, I'm not doing again just because you have the memory of a goldfish.
  • ha ha ha. You never.
  • You’re just a troll. You’re not here for serious discussion, just a 12 year old sitting behind a screen and waving the iPhone your daddy bought you which you don’t even appreciate
  • bah ha ha ha. little do you know. You are the one in the basement buddy. And no, I buy EVERYTHING I own. My house, my cars, my son's education. I am not some blind fanboy who follows the sheep just because. I will call **** when I see it. I have been in business longer than you have been alive. Again. I call **** when I see it. Serious discussion is something I enjoy, unfortunately, when dealing with fanboys like yourself, that cannot be done. One criticism and you ignite like a bottle rocket defending and deflecting.
  • Airports were good, regardless of whether they sold well or not. If you actually owned one you’d know
  • Had 3 of them. No different or better than other routers.
  • Hardware-wise, same as other routers. Software-wise, they're a lot easier to set up and configure, much more intuitive. Routers that have a web-interface which looks like they're from the 90s and aren't mobile friendly, aren't acceptable. Admittedly there's a lot more routers now that have better interfaces, e.g. the Google Onhub, Eero, UniFi, which probably provided too strong competition for Apple, but at the time when Airports were introduced there was nothing like it on the market
  • Again, no different or better than any other router on the market, at the time, or now. just MARKETING, apple's forte. I had them at my home, my office and my workshop. I did not find them any different than the others that they replaced, and vice versa. The only difference was the resale value. another apple forte. Over priced new, overpriced used.
  • As I said, they were completely unique when they first came out. They're not unique now, but they _were_ unique. The fact that they're not now is why they're most likely not sold anymore
  • Again, They were not unique. I bought three through the marketing of apple, my friend had other routers and worked exactly the same. I know you would not understand that but it's the truth.
  • Explain the "worked exactly the same" bit, you're telling me they had a user-friendly interface? Interface that works well for mobile as well? Or are you just telling me that it was a router that "worked"? Because the latter isn't the same
  • Thats EXACTLY what I am saying. They worked fine with mobile, they were just as easy to setup. They were no different than the apple router. I know, you have difficulty comprehending that something without an apple logo on it can work JUST AS GOOD. Maybe take off the apple blinders. But you and I both know you won't. You are so closed minded that you cannot see past Rene's ***.
  • You haven't told me what routers you're referring to, maybe give me something to work with? What I'm saying is that the majority of routers are not user-friendly, especially in the early days of the Airport, I wasn't aware of something similar in the early days, but I could well be wrong, so tell me what router you are comparing it to, I'm intrigued and I'm willing to hold my hands up and say I'm wrong if I am
  • I never said they sold well, but they were great, and quite possibly Apple got rid of them because they didn't sell well. Facebook is really popular but that doesn't make it great, just like there are many things that are great but are hardly known
  • Google tried to pull an Apple and capture an audience through feelings. But the problem is that Apple has the hardware to backup those feel-good presentations. Google had a line-up that could have been great if the prices matched the tech. In a perfect world, the Pixel 4 and Pixelbook Go would have started at $499, the Pixel Buds 2 would retail for $149 and their basic Google Nest Wifi bundle would be around $199. Google is trying to go after the premium market but I think that's going to be a tough climb. Apple products are too popular right now and they have created throughout the years a vision that their hardware is high-class (even though their recent MacBook keyboards are garbage). I really thought Google would go after the Chromebook crowd, the people who are trying to get the best-value from their purchases and worry about their budget. I think Google is suffering from identity crisis right now.
  • iphone 11 pro camera cant even compare with a pixel 1 camera . side by side comaperison with about 10 ppl present all agreed many of them had iphones so this isnt at all biased
    and iphone camera will never gets updated and become outdated in 6 months
    the p1 camera got night mode 2 yrs after it was released . p1 cam recently was updated after 3yrs of release.
    curious to see why the ip x and ip xs dont have night mode when ip1 which came out time of ip 7s has night mode tele lens is good cause the hi res zoom thru software will effectively make it 4X zoom . hi res zoom isnt quite 2X tho its only 85% of that
    so less then 4x. one of the main reason for me to get p4 and the phone looks so good. very disappointed they removed VR i use it every single day
  • "curious to see why the ip x and ip xs dont have night mode when ip1 which came out time of ip 7s has night mode" Can anyone translate this gibberish into English please? "tele lens is good cause the hi res zoom thru software will effectively make it 4X zoom . hi res zoom isnt quite 2X tho its only 85% of that so less then 4x." Huh? So hi res zoom is 4X zoom, but hi res zoom isn't quite 2X? 85% of what? Try to be sober the next time you comment.
  • Leonardo. Nail....head....hit! You got it 100 percent right on that comment. I picked up the pixel 3 at the store the other day, and it's no where near the feel and quality of my iphone 8. The pixelbook however is super premium. I would take that anyday over a macbook in terms of build quality and feel. Plus the 2 in 1 form factor is awesome. To bad they overpriced it by about 400 bucks.
  • Surprise surprise. Rene bashing something other than his precious Apple. Considering the Apple events from 2012 onward have been horrible, sjw and at times extremely cringe-inducing (anyone forget the U2 & Dancing Edie fiascos?) I don't think you ought to be throwing shade here Rene.
  • I loved the "Huge forehead assembly" comment. It's WAY better than an idiotic NOTCH!