Google Pixel Buds Take on AirPods and Echo Buds Despite Premium Price and Delayed Shipping
Google wants a piece of the increasingly competitive hearables market. The newly revamped Pixel Buds the company debuted at the Made by Google event on Tuesday show how it plans to stake that claim, but it’s an open question whether Google’s first true wireless earbuds will be heavy competitor.
Premium Hearables, Premium Cost
Google is positioning the Pixel Buds as a premium product and it has the price point to match. $179 is not much more than the $159 Apple AirPods, but it’s a big enough leap from the $129 Amazon Echo Buds coming out soon to make anyone not committed to the Google tech ecosystem at least pause to consider if it’s worth the extra $50.
In terms of hardware, there’s really only a name to connect the Pixel Buds with its predecessor from last year with no more tether connecting the earbuds and an entirely new shape and feel. The bud is supposed to be a “simple tiny little dot floating in your ear” according to the designers. Silicone ear tips and ridges keep the bud in place as opposed to a hard shell common to most earbuds.
Google Assistant has been adapted for the new Pixel Buds as well, with hands-free access by saying “Hey Google.” The Pixel Buds also offer the live translation feature that was a major selling point for the original Pixel Buds, although it stands out less now that Google has expanded the feature to Google Assistant in other hearables. The new earbuds are also designed to act more independently of the phone, with a connection that extends up to three rooms away indoors and up to a thousand yards outside.
“What surprises me about the new Pixel Buds are the price point, features, and ship date. They must be thinking margin over market share here,” Voicebot founder Bret Kinsella said. “The features are okay, but nothing exceptional on audio quality and no active noise cancellation like Echo Buds. Maybe they are assuming the niche application of auto-translate will make up for it. That seems overly optimistic.”
Google is choosing to jump into earbuds even as the market is starting to get crowded. The Echo Buds, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, and earbuds built by audio brands like Bose and Sony are all competing for limited ear space. And the AirPods produced by Apple are a dominant presence, at least in the U.S., and the main rival with which Pixel Buds will be compared.
“Given the fact that AirPods have such a high customer satisfaction rating, I think the hearables opportunity for Google, Amazon, Samsung, and Microsoft is to serve as the Android-ecosystem counterpart to AirPods,” said Dave Kemp, a hearables expert and business development manager at Oaktree Products in an email to Voicebot. “Amazon and Google entering into the hearables space will add a new dynamic around voice assistants that Apple has largely neglected in this initial first phase of hearables adoption.”
Google won’t be in a position to test its creation against the competition for at least a few months as the Pixel Buds are not ready to ship. Google set the initial delivery only for some time in the spring next year. According to the demonstration models at the Made by Google event, the final design is still pending approval from the FCC. It isn’t clear how much of the delay is a marketing decision as opposed to final touches to the engineering, however.
“What is the reason for consumers to wait on Pixel Buds? That rationale is hard to find,” Kinsella said. “It seems like they are filling a slot in the product portfolio more than seeing hearables as a strategic battleground. Maybe they are right or maybe they are struggling on the hardware engineering front. Either way, it seems like a missed opportunity. The questions now are if and how competitors will take advantage of the situation and whether the Android OS moat is strong enough to shield Google from negative consequences.”
“While Google is not doing itself any favors by foregoing this holiday season and ceding it to Amazon and the others, Pixel Buds’ best path to becoming as successful as AirPods is by positioning and articulating the value of Pixel Buds serving as a home for Google Assistant,” Kemp said.