This year, the fierce competition between tech giants Apple and Google revolves around their ability to provide the most incremental updates for their smartphones. It’s a close call between the two.
On Wednesday, Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet (GOOGL), unveiled its latest phone lineup. Much like Apple’s iPhone 15 announcement last month, the improvements were rather minor. The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro from Google feature slightly faster processors, slightly better cameras, and slightly improved displays. Their designs remain largely unchanged from last year’s models. Curiously enough, despite these modest enhancements, Google increased the prices of the two phone models by $100, with the Pixel 8 priced at $699 and Pixel 8 Pro at $999. On the other hand, Apple (AAPL) has managed to keep its iPhone prices under control.
But where is the real progress in smartphone technology? These annual product unveilings were once highly anticipated events in the tech world. They were a chance to showcase cutting-edge features on new models. However, with the lack of “must-have” features in the 2023 lineups for iPhones and Pixels, current phone owners find little reason to upgrade. According to estimates from Wall Street analysts tracked by FactSet, iPhone unit sales are only expected to see a meager 2% increase in the next year.
Apple and Google face not only each other as rivals but also the smartphones already in consumers’ pockets. Without a compelling reason to shell out $1,000 for the latest piece of hardware, consumers will undoubtedly opt for the more affordable alternative. This poses a particular challenge for Apple, considering that over half of its revenue still comes from new iPhone sales.
The Future of AI-Powered Digital Assistants in Smartphones
The capabilities of AI technology have surpassed what we currently have on our phones. However, this dynamic is not set in stone. By incorporating AI-powered digital assistants, we can kick-start the upgrade cycle and bridge the gap between AI and smartphones.
In a recent Tech Trader column, my colleague Eric Savitz highlights how Siri feels “downright ancient” compared to the emergence of ChatGPT. Having a more capable AI-powered service on iPhone and Android devices would greatly enhance daily productivity for users.
This week, there’s a glimmer of hope for the fusion of AI and smartphones. During Google’s product event on Wednesday, they unveiled a new version of their digital assistant. This assistant integrates generative AI capabilities from its Bard chatbot, allowing it to gather information and context from emails and provide summaries of personal documents. Although this feature is not yet available on the latest Google Pixel (which launches on Oct. 12), a Google executive mentioned that Assistant with Bard is an early experiment and will be rolled out to testers soon. The company plans on making it accessible to iPhone and Android users in the coming months.
For years, companies have discussed the potential of a more intelligent AI assistant that can perform actions on behalf of users, such as trip planning, reservation booking, and smart shopping. Apple and Google cannot afford to waste any more time. AI could be the tech industry’s best (and perhaps only) hope at revitalizing the smartphone and making it exciting once again.