back to article Google's Big Hardware Bet: Is this what a sane business would do?

Google is placing a "Big Bet" on consumer hardware, the company screams in a new blog post. Presumably this time it really means it. Two thousand staff from HTC's phone division will be heading off to the Chocolate Factory, their winning Golden Tickets in hand. Google didn't capitalise "Big Bet" but then it really didn't have …

  1. JimmyPage
    Meh

    On of Androids Achilles heels

    (although you could argue it's a strength)

    is the diverse nature of handset/OEM-versions-of-Android that abound ...

    example:

    look at the "how to take a screenshot" guide here

    as the article opens:

    Every Android phone is different, and so is taking screenshots with them. Even though Android 4 introduced simple screenshots for all with the handy power-and-volume-down-key combo,

    Oh, my Wileyfox (not listed, btw) has the volume and power keys on the same side. You need *two* hands to take a screenshot.

    If Google themselves release a phone, at least there should be an "approved" way for everything.

    1. Dabooka
      Thumb Up

      Re: On of Androids Achilles heels

      Hear hear.

      And as another Wileyfox owner were lucky in the sense we get updates. For now at least...

    2. Tim99 Silver badge

      Re: On of Androids Achilles heels

      @JimmyPage

      Your link is dead/has been pulled...

      1. JimmyPage
        Happy

        Re: Your link is dead/has been pulled...

        Cheers. It's no great shakes. Just another generic "here's how you do things in Android" with a list of hardware and a (very small) caveat that you need to be on <this> version rather that <that>. Even if <this> version is 5 years old.

        The older I get, the more irritated I get by the floppy-fringed gee-whizz of the young hipster brigade trying to convince me that some ill-thought out, badly designed, appallingly executed POS feature/gadget/app is proof that we're somehow living the Star Trek dream.

        One thing these whippersnappers don't know (and that's the closest you'll get to a tacit admission that at one time *I* may have been a young hipster) is that 80% of "new" is actually "old". Indeed (in computing terms) "very old". AI ? read "2001". VR ? "Tron". And so on. iPhone ? Psion.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: On of Androids Achilles heels

        The link has a superfluous quotation mark on the end, which can be deleted to make it work properly.

    3. handleoclast

      Re: One of Androids Achilles heels

      On my Wileyfox Swift, I found an app that would let me get at System UI Tuner (which Wileyfuckers "kindly" removed access to when they went from Cyanogen to Android). There are several apps that do this, few of them clear from playstore descriptions that this is one of their abilities. The least obvious, but one that gives the fastest, easiest access, is Dev Tools. There's a more obvious app, "SystemUI Tuner" but you need to faff about with ADB to give the app certain permissions (which is fine, if you can be arsed). The point of all this? System UI Tuner lets you fiddle with the navbar (be patient, I do eventually deal with your point).

      I first wanted this to restore the cursor-left/right keys to the navbar. It's not as good as the ones with Cyanogen OS 13, because the cursor keys are there all the time rather than only when the keyboard is displayed. But they help. A lot. You need to find some suitable icons from somewhere (I used iconsdb.com) and try various sizes until you get ones that look OK. Then use UI tuner to bind them to KEYCODE_DPAD_LEFT and KEYCODE_DPAD_RIGHT with the appropriate icons. You'll also have to fiddle with the spacing to get it to look good(ish).

      Which isn't what you moaned about. But this bit is. You can do the same trick (I used an asterisk icon for lack of anything better), and bind KEYCODE_SYSRQ. Why that one? Look for the SysRq key on a physical keyboard and look what else is printed on the key: "Print Screen." And that's what it does. Instant screenshot with one touch of a finger on a specified place on the navbar.

      And I really did want those things, because I put my phone in a leather case with a TPU (polymer) base. Makes the physical power/volume buttons fiddlier to get at. I not only needed two hands for a screenshot, I needed long(ish) fingernails. Putting those things on the navbar made life a lot easier.

      As did installing "Pocket Lock." I used orientation for the locking sensor (so I put the phone upside down in my pocket to lock it) and proximity for the unlocking sensor (it;'s a PIR sensor, so opening the leather case causes it to think my face is no longer near the phone, and that wakes the phone up). It doesn't just mean I no longer need long(ish) fingernails, it also means less wear on a physical switch.

      That just left the volume. Which "Volume Notification" addresses. It puts all the volume variants (alarm, phone, bluetooth, etc) in the notification area. Not as quick or easy to use to deal with an "oh shit, I have to turn the volume down before people hear more of this really embarrassing stuff" situation, but OK for most other situations.

      Downside? The navbar forgets to display the extra icons after a reboot. Those spots on the navbar still do what you told them to, the just don't have a visible icon any more. The rejigged spacing to fit those icons is still there. It's just that the icons have gone. So back to System UI Tuner. Which shows you the current situation, with all the extra icons. So all you have to do is save that, right? Wrong. You haven't changed anything, so it doesn't bother saving. So swap two icons (any two) around by moving one icon by its drag bar (an equals sign), and save. Then put it back where it was. And save. Sorted. Grrrrrrrrr. I don't know if it was Google or Wileyfuckers who broke that, but it's annoying.

      Anyway, that's your problem sorted. Along with a few problems you never knew you had (or may never have).

  2. Zippy's Sausage Factory

    I question Google's strategy. They had Motorola - a superb brand name in phones. A nice clamshell RAZR type Android thing might have been enough to tempt me not to get an iPhone 6 back in the day. But there wasn't one.

    Nest would have been a cool thing to keep happening. But they killed that.

    Even Microsoft are better at hardware than Google. And they're still struggling to get as good at is as the average dodgy Shenzhen Arfur Daley...

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Microsoft are good at hardware. I have a Microsoft Intelimouse Explorer, it's the most comfortable I can find. I have a Sidewinder joystick, because joysticks without force feedback don't feel right. I have two trackballs (bought a second when they stopped making them in case it dies). The person next to me at work has one of their ergo keyboards.

      Their hardware just works, and works well. Unlike their software.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Logitech have just released their first trackball in years. Pricey, but I've never regretted spending good money on the fancier Logitech mice:

        https://www.logitech.com/en-gb/product/mx-ergo-wireless-trackball-mouse

    2. Steve the Cynic

      "Even Microsoft are better at hardware than Google."

      Yeah, but don't forget that Microsoft have been doing hardware for nearly 40 years.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z-80_SoftCard

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: average dodgy Shenzhen Arfur Daley

    "'ere, Arfur. About your tab ...."

    "Not now Dave, not now !!!!"

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I question Google's strategy.

    I think its an Emperor's New Clothes thing. Some very high ranking VP was sitting, twirling his leather chair, his vacant head devoid of any thought, when a passing gamma ray disturbed one of this two neurons. Out of his mouth spewed the dumb idea "Let's buy a phone maker, and be as rich as Apple!" Everybody else privately thought "The guy's a dick, we've been there, done that. It didn't work last time, it won't work this time". But what they actually said was "Yeah, great idea your epic-ness, let's do it!".

    I have considerable insight into how corporate strategy is fashioned from experience across a range of different companies, and sadly this EFFUG model is all too common.

    EFFUG: Executive Folly Followed by Uncritical Groupthink. I'm hoping to be cited in future editions of HBR.

  5. TechnicianJack
    Thumb Up

    Good plan

    If Google can make the software and the hardware, it should cut down on all the arguments when problems arise with the phones etc.

    There seem to be a few cases of:

    Google: We've investigated the phone and there's a problem with the hardware causing the issue

    (Insert hardware company name): We've investigated the phone and there's a problem with the software causing the issue

    Then stalemate/back and forth for months trying to get a resolution. Look at the Nexus 6P/5X battery issues for example.

    If Google can design and control the manufacture of both, they should be able to respond to problems and get a resolution faster.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Good plan

      "If Google can design and control the manufacture of both, they should be able to respond to problems and get a resolution faster."

      You mean like Microsoft and the various Surface problems?

      1. TechnicianJack
        Meh

        Re: Good plan

        If Google can design and control the manufacture of both, they SHOULD be able to respond to problems and get a resolution faster.

        Fixed for you! Emphasis on the 'should'!

  6. joekhul

    Pixel first phone I ever used for more then 6 months

    Google has come a long way. Being an app developer, I get multiple phones every year, and of course every single flagship. However, for the first time ever... I used the pixel exclusively as my go to device for all things personal. And I dont see that changing, so maybe it will go a year. Guess we will have to see.

    $1 billion isn't nothing for Google though. There is no way to lose on this deal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pixel first phone I ever used for more then 6 months

      $1 billion isn't nothing for Google though. There is no way to lose on this deal.

      1. They made a full year pre tax profit of $24bn last year. They certainly can afford to lose a billion dollars screwing around with hardware.

      2. See their previous with Motorola. Even allowing for the patents retained, tax credits and other benefits, Google/Alphabet lost $3.2bn between buying and selling Motorola, according to a reasonable NY Times analysis. And now, a few years down the line after they handed over Motorola to Lenovo and crystallised that loss, the idiots are now spending more money trying to build a hardware business with a slice of HTC.

  7. Jon 37

    Half a million quid to hire someone???!!!

    Please tell me where I got my maths wrong:

    $1.1 billion divided by 2000 people is $550,000 per person. Over half a million dollars. To hire someone!

    Wouldn't it have been cheaper to hire people directly? They could just offer people a "modest" $100,000 hiring bonus plus $50,000 a year more than they're currently making, they would get loads of applicants and still pay less than that!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Half a million quid to hire someone???!!!

      They are not just paying for the employees, although you'd never know that from this article.

      There are also other IP and bits that are going to Google.

  8. SirWired 1

    I don't think this is a marketshare play

    I think this is more a case of Google wanting to bring it's "Model Phone" development in-house as a way of demonstrating to OEMs of what Google is thinking as a basic Android platform. Yeah, they'll sell some phones themselves along the way, but that's not really the point.

    That said, you have to wonder why, if this was such a great idea, they unloaded Moto to begin with.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't think this is a marketshare play

      A "basic Android platform" that costs as much as an iPhone? If they were trying to show OEMs what Google thinks of as basic necessities for a phone they'd be selling it for $200.

      By pricing the Pixel line as they do, they're competing directly with Samsung's Galaxy S series (and the handful of other Android phones that fail in their attempt to compete with Samsung in that space)

      1. strum

        Re: I don't think this is a marketshare play

        > If they were trying to show OEMs what Google thinks of as basic necessities for a phone they'd be selling it for $200.

        Indeed. I still have the Nexus 4 - which cost me considerably less than $200 - and it's my perfect phone. If I could get security updates, I would have no need to change it, ever. But I suspect that doesn't make me much of a market...

  9. oneeye

    it's not just people, Google gets Manufacturing too.

    There's more to this deal than is being currently reported. It's the entry into manufacturing that meets Google's ultimate plans. Designed & Manufactured with HTC's help.

    Plus, it pulls HTC's tit out of the ringer. Which, as an HTC customer, I'm quite happy about. Hopefully, this new partnership benefits consumers as much, or more.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hopefully, this new partnership benefits consumers as much, or more.

    You, sir, are an incorrigible optimist. I raise my hat to your optimism, but offer you a cast iron guarantee that no consumer will benefit a jot from corporate wankathons like this.

  11. PhilipN Silver badge

    There must be a game plan, but what is it?

    At first I thought this was an example of "we are the smartest people on the planet so we can do anything better than you" mentality. Now I am not so sure.

    To build a phone hardware company would be complete madness. The supply chain management issues alone are a challenge for even the best companies. And Google are not even picking up the right management team for that, so at least on the surface they are not going to try and compete with Apple and Samsung on that end of the business.

    So they are bringing in-house a development team - why? Because they want to move ahead with phone technology in leaps and bounds - creating and bringing to realisation new features with complete privacy. (OK I know "complete" is relative but you get the point)

    Which means in turn they believe phones have in no way plateaued in terms of features and functions - or if they are going to plateau when left to the manufacturers Google are going to continue introducing weird and wonderful features to (aim to) leapfrog Apple and put an Android phone in the hands of everyone on the planet. I am sure a lot of us thinking laterally and not just "I wish my phone did not suck doing a ..b..c.." could come up with something entirely new - what we might be using our phone for in 5 years time, or 10 years. Now we don't even have to bother trying - Google are going to do our thinking for us.

    1. PhilipN Silver badge

      Re: There must be a game plan, but what is it?

      Sorry to "reply" to my own post but I missed the edit time-out.

      So in future Google are not just going to say to manufacturers "here is the OS now go and build it". They will be able to say "This is the latest and greatest hardware tweak and this is how you add it to your production line".

      An interesting idea generally.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: There must be a game plan, but what is it?

      lot of us thinking laterally and not just "I wish my phone did not suck doing a ..b..c.."

      I'm sure that a lot more of us are thinking more along the lines of "I like my phone but I wish that the battery would last a week like phones used to"..

  12. Randall Shimizu

    Hopefully the customer service will get better with the Google Pixel. Customer service seems to be a after thought with the Pixel products. This one reason why I have avoided purchasing a Pixel phone.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They're giving up economies of scale

    HTC was buying components in large numbers because they had a midrange and low end phones to go along with this. Google will be selling a few million phones a year, and get shit pricing for components as a result.

    They're also going to upset OEMs, especially Samsung, though I'm not sure what they can do about it at this point. The time for Samsung to have a credible alternative to Android to keep Google in line was about four years ago, it is too late now.

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