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Google’s Hardware Ambitions Will Shrink Assistant Investment: Report

Google has begun pouring resources into developing hardware for its Pixel line of products at the expense of Google Assistant and other divisions, according to a new report from The Information. Google Assistant is the most notable victim of the tech giant’s cuts and reorganization, which has already halved the staff of incubation lab Area 120 and the end of the Google Stadia gaming streaming service.

Hardware Over Assistant

The new hardware emphasis is born out of Google’s concern that regulators may end its longstanding deal with Apple embedding Google search (and Google ads) on iPhones, according to the report. Combined with what seems to be a dip in Samsung smartphone sales with their Android operating systems, Google apparently sees bolstering its line of Pixel hardware as the solution. As a company, that means shifting staff and other resources to developing Google-branded devices and features exclusive to Pixel.

Those resources are coming from existing company assets and projects for non-Google devices. The list includes software like Google TV, but mostly means cuts to Google Assistant and work supporting different, platform-specific forms of the voice assistant. The report claims Google will “invest less in developing its Google Assistant voice-assisted search for cars and for devices not made by Google, including TVs, headphones, smart-home speakers, smart glasses and smartwatches that use Google’s Wear OS software.”

Why the company is putting so much of Google Assistant on the chopping block isn’t made clear, though its less direct revenue generation may be one reason executives see it as easier to squeeze for more resources. Google Assistant isn’t vanishing from devices made by other manufacturers by any means. The report cites Samsung and China-based Xiaomi and OnePlus as “premium Android phone partners for which it should develop the best Google services.” Other brands may simply get less support or attention.

The shift away from investing in Google Assistant’s presence on non-Google devices is reminiscent of the company’s decision to end Conversational Actions next year. Google Action developers were offered credits for Google Cloud and the company encouraged developers to reconfigure their voice apps for App Actions for Android, but the general impact is to severely limit the creation of voice apps for Google devices that aren’t built by Google or its chosen partners. Unlike that announcement, there aren’t any immediate impacts from Google’s internal investment choices as described by the report, but that could change if the voice assistant becomes less available or offers fewer features than Alexa or other rivals on third-party devices.

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