Google, which prides itself on developing simple, intuitive software that seems to know what you want almost before you do, is finding itself in a very different world when it comes to its own phones and other gadgets.
Its new Pixel 2 phones, released in October, got high marks for their camera and design — at least until some users complained about “burned in” afterimages on their screens, a bluish tint, periodic clicking sounds and occasionally unresponsive touch commands .
Then the company’s new Home Mini smart speaker was caught always listening . Finally, its wireless “Pixel Buds” headset received savage reviews for a cheap look and feel, mediocre sound quality, and being difficult to set up and confusing to use.
In short, Google is re-learning an old adage in the technology business: Hardware is hard.
Google quickly extended the warranty on the Pixel 2 and tweaked software on the devices and its Home Mini in an attempt to fix the troublesome issues. (It hasn’t had much to say about the Pixel Buds.) Still, the problems served as a high-profile reminder of the company’s inexperience in making consumer electronics — a field where Apple has a 40-year head start.
But the company insists that its problems are being blown out of proportion.
“I believe, quite frankly, that Google has a spotlight on it,” Rick Osterloh, the executive in charge of the company’s hardware division, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Things that would normally be pretty minor issues are a bit amplified in today’s environment.”
Of course, Google has actively courted this spotlight. In 2016, Osterloh took the stage at a product event to tout the Pixel phone as “the best of hardware and software, designed and built by Google.” The company is also currently running a major ad campaign to draw attention to its gizmos for the holiday shopping season.
“Being a software company is an entirely different animal from being a hardware company,” said technology analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research. “The cultures are very different and there are more moving parts in hardware, so you have to learn along the way.”
Google has to realize a “fail fast” philosophy that worked well for free software products doesn’t work as well for smartphones that cost hundreds of dollars, said analyst Ross Rubin of Reticle Research.
Software “can be more forgiving of that development philosophy,” he said. “You can’t do that with atoms. You risk some backlash.”