Google is reportedly shifting its focus to hardware at Assistant's expense

The company is supposedly protecting against threats from Apple and regulators.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Google's flurry of hardware launches may be part of a larger defensive strategy. Sources speaking to The Information claim CEO Sundar Pichai sees hardware as the best way to be "protected" against the pitfalls of a changing mobile market. According to Google Assistant VP Sissie Hsiao, Pichai is concerned Apple is taking share from Android partners like Samsung, and that antitrust regulators might nix Google's long-standing deal to make its search engine the default on iPhones.

This may be coming at the expense of support for non-Google products. While Android support apparently remains intact, the company is said to be investing less in Assistant for cars and third-party hardware in general. Hsiao and other execs have reportedly explored moving employees away from Assistant and Google TV.

Google declined to comment, The Information said. However, the company may have reason to take risks with its hardware business. While Android isn't about to lose its dominance, any continued shortfalls could eat into Google's all-important mobile ad revenue even if its iPhone search deal continues unchallenged. In contrast, Hsiao supposedly noted that the Android Automotive platform in use at BMW, Volvo and other companies is only now approaching $1 billion in revenue — a tiny fraction of the $257.6 billion Google made in 2021.

The main question is whether or not Google can grow its hardware efforts enough to serve as a hedge against any problems. While Google revitalized its phone lineup with last year's Pixel 6 and the just-launched Pixel 7, it's not yet clear this has translated to improved sales. Google moved just 4.5 million phones in 2021 where Apple and Samsung shipped well over 200 million each. And while Google-powered smart speakers have done well (they're second only to Amazon in lifetime sales), the company is only just making its first in-house smartwatch. It's also reentering the tablet space after a years-long hiatus.

There's also a worry Google might play favorites. The Information maintains that Google is concentrating on providing the best services to "premium" Android partners like Samsung, OnePlus and Xiaomi. That could hurt other brands that might not get equal access to Assistant and other key features. If you're concerned about the long-term health of the Android ecosystem, the reported focus shift might not be very reassuring.

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