New Google Pixel Buds Expected at October 15 Product Launch Event
Google is planning on introducing an update to its Pixel Buds wireless earbuds at its October 15th launch event in New York City according to a report by 9to5Google. The report didn’t provide any details on expected product specifications. However, the most glaring feature to update is removing the wired tether between the buds in the first-generation model. Google looked a bit behind-the-times even two years ago when Pixel Buds didn’t provide two independent earbuds similar to Apple’s AirPods but instead wired them together. Since that time, many more options have come to market that match AirPods’ independent bud design.
Trusted Reviews suggests that poor noise isolation may have been the biggest disappointment in Pixel Bud performance beyond the “tether.” Regardless, they have not seen much traction with U.S. consumers according to a recent survey by Voicebot. AirPods control over one-third of the market whereas Pixel Buds are around 2%.
Taking on Voice Assistant Rivals
It’s not just AirPods that Pixel Buds trail in the market. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds have about five times more users in Voicebot’s survey despite only being in the market for around six months compared to two full years for Pixel Buds. Galaxy Buds’ market share no doubt benefited from distribution as a free “add on” for some early Galaxy S10 buyers and that is something Google could consider as a bundle with its forthcoming Pixel 4 smartphone release. However, it’s not just Apple and Samsung that Google trails today. Bose, Sony, and Beats (also owned by Apple) all have higher U.S. market share today.
Another new entrant in the market that Google is surely monitoring is Echo Buds from Amazon. These devices will begin shipping this fall and are true wireless earbuds with persistent Alexa access. They are also priced well below AirPods at $129.99. The current generation of Pixel Buds matches the price of AirPods at $159. It will be interesting to see if Google stays in the AirPods pricing bracket or attempts to compete with Amazon at the lower price point. Google has faced a similar market situation in the past with smart speakers where Amazon aggressively reduced prices that Google eventually felt compelled to match.
Will Translation Do it For Google
Google’s biggest feature differentiation at launch was “live” translation. The instant translation that can be used by two users speaking different languages into a single Pixel Bud unit, made for a great demonstration and has since been expanded to support 40 languages. However, earlier this year, Google extended the feature to other Google Assistant headphones making it less compelling as a product differentiator.
In addition, Google also offers a mobile app that does much the same thing and there is always the question about how often the need for instant translation arises. It would be more compelling in a second-generation version of Pixel Buds to enable that translation across multiple devices simultaneously so users wouldn’t need to share a single device. However, given how quickly the market has evolved, it seems likely that core capabilities around battery life, sound quality, ease-of-use, and price point will be bigger drivers of success for the new model.
Another feature update to look for will be an always-listening Google Assistant. First-generation Pixel Buds require a tap to activate Google Assistant. The new AirPods enable you to ask for Siri by voice as well as tapping and Echo Buds have a similar capability for Alexa access. Google and Amazon are using devices as a conduit to drive more use of their voice assistants and the always-listening feature is an important way to reduce friction in user access.
Google Likely to Update Several Voice-First Products
We don’t have additional leaks to report today for Google’s product event later this month, but it is easy to speculate on a couple of likely developments. The flagship Google Home smart speaker has not been officially updated since its launch in 2016. You should expect to see an updated version of that with the new Google Nest branding. In addition, the Google Home Mini is now two years since launch and likely will be updated as a new Nest Mini version. Beyond these items, Pixel 4 smartphones, and Pixel Buds there will likely be another surprise product, but we are not expecting as much activity as Amazon showed last week when it introduced three new wearable products at once among 16 new products and updates.