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Google weaves more AI into new smartphone

AFP SAN FRANCISCO (AFP-Jiji) — Google on Wednesday unveiled new versions of its Pixel smartphone, the highlight of a refreshed line aimed at weaving artificial intelligence deeper into modern lives.

Google software and artificial intelligence were common threads in the gamut of new devices it unveiled to step up its challenge on the hardware front to rivals such as Apple and Amazon.

The new Pixel 2 and larger Pixel 2 XL are the first Google-made phones to be released since the California tech giant announced the acquisition of key segments of Taiwan-based electronics group HTC.

The upgraded smartphones will be available for order as of Wednesday in six countries starting at $649 for five-inch display Pixel 2, and $849 for the six-inch Pixel 2 XL.

The new aluminum-body smartphones, along with Google’s upgraded connected speakers and new laptop computer, all aim to infuse artificial intelligence to make the devices more user-friendly, built around the Google Assistant — the rival to Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and others.

Google vice president Rick Osterloh said Google’s new devices “are simple to use and they anticipate your needs.”

Osterloh told the product launch event in San Francisco: “You interact with your devices naturally with your voice or by touching them.”

Google, by bringing in a team of engineers from HTC, aims to emulate the success of Apple iPhones by controlling the hardware as well as the software used in the premium-priced handsets.

The revamped camera in the smartphone retains a single lens, but seeks to improve images via “computational photography,” an artificial intelligence tool that can enhance pictures.

Analyst Ian Fogg of IHS Markit said in a tweet that the new smartphone “adds incremental improvements on the great v1” while noting that “Google’s challenge is to solve production limits which hurt the original.”

Fogg said the use of computation to improve images with a single lens “is technically impressive.”

Google announced a slimmed down version of its connected speaker called Google Home Mini starting at $49 in the United States, stepping up its challenge to market leader Amazon.

The new speaker, which responds to voice commands using artificial intelligence, is less than half the price of Google’s first generation speaker and makes this “more accessible to more people,” said Google hardware designer Isabelle Olsson.

A premium version of the speaker — a $399 Google Home Max unveiled Wednesday — offers more power and audio quality for music aficionados.

The new Google Clips camera — one of the surprises of the event — “looks for smiles [and] moments, because the software is in the camera,” said Google product manager Juston Payne.

“It’s like having my own photographer shooting and choosing my best moments for me,” Payne said of the $249 device.

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