Google’s recent hardware releases could be part of a larger defensive strategy. According to sources, CEO Sundar Pichai believes that hardware is the best way to be “protected” against the pitfalls of a changing mobile market. According to Google Assistant VP Sissie Hsiao, Pichai is concerned that Apple is stealing market share from Android partners such as Samsung, and that antitrust regulators may overturn Google’s long-standing agreement to make its search engine the default on iPhones.
This may come at the expense of non-Google product support. While Android support appears to be unaffected, the company is reportedly investing less in Assistant for cars and third-party hardware in general. Hsiao and other executives are said to have discussed moving employees away from Assistant and Google TV.
However, the company may have reason to take chances in its hardware division. While Android is unlikely to lose its hegemony, any further shortfalls could eat into Google’s vital mobile ad revenue, even if its iPhone search deal remains unchallenged. Hsiao, on the other hand, allegedly stated that the Android Automotive platform, which is used by 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 Google can expand its hardware efforts sufficiently to serve as a buffer against any problems. While Google refreshed its phone lineup with last year’s Pixel 6 and the recently launched Pixel 7, it’s unclear whether this has translated into increased sales. In 2021, Google shipped 4.5 million phones, while Apple and Google shipped well over 200 million each. While Google-powered smart speakers have performed well (they are second only to Amazon in lifetime sales), the company is only now developing its first in-house smartwatch. It’s also making a comeback in the tablet market after a long absence.
There’s also concern that Google will favor certain users. According to reports, Google is focusing on providing the best services to “premium” Android partners such as Samsung, OnePlus, and Xiaomi. This could be detrimental to other brands who may not have equal access to Assistant and other key features. If you’re worried about the long-term viability of the Android ecosystem, the reported focus shift may be unsettling.