Friends? Not anymore. Google wants you to bow down and meet your master

google takes control op ed 104 event oped hed
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Google is your helpful friend. It helps you remember the name of what’s-his-name, the actor. It keeps track of your calendar. It tells you if there’s traffic on the way to work. It helps bring affordable smartphones to developing nations, provides an open source version of Android for anyone to use, and generally tries not to be evil. Your old pal Google.

Not anymore. Google’s learned nice guys finish last, so it’s done playing nice. Control is the new name of the game.

Google Fall Event: Pixel phones, Daydream, Home — Oh my! Everything Google revealed

Arguably, Google has always wanted some control, it just never seemed all that bothered about getting it, and adding it to the day’s to-do list never really happened. Google has had enough of that. No more brushing it off, no more hiding the pang of jealously it gets looking at the control freaks at Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. No more Mr. Nice Android.

This means if you want to continue as an Android fanatic and Google fan, you’re going to have to bow down and do what it says.

Pixel power

Google’s new Pixel phones, and the Google Assistant built into them, give us the proof. There’s plenty of gushing talk about how they signify a revamp of Google’s mobile strategy, and how the Pixel phones were needed to take on Apple, but much less about the 180-degree turn they represent for Google’s way of thinking about hardware and its customers.

Google is tempting you to buy these devices, so it can pull you deeper into its growing ecosystem.

Google is the “seller of record” for the Pixel phones. That’s a nonsense business phrase that means “these are ours, OK?!” before anyone says they also belong to HTC, the company that built them. Google’s Rick Osterloh, the new man in charge of Google’s hardware strategy, likened working with HTC to Apple working with Foxconn. In other words, do what we tell you, HTC, and don’t answer back. You’re just a factory.

In the past, Google has worked with manufacturers to co-produce smartphones under the Nexus name. Sure, the resulting devices were a mixed bag. Some good — the Nexus 5 and Nexus 6P — and some less good, like the Nexus 5X. But they were very Google: non-threatening, usually affordable, and rarely backed by an in-your-face sales campaign. They’re now a thing of the past; Google told us that no new Nexus phones are planned. A tweet from the Nexus account also said goodbye in a roundabout way, placating fans with promises of software updates and conversation about the good old days.

Hands on: Google guns for the big boys with the spec-stacked Pixel

The old Google was happy with partners. The new Google wants to give the orders and be obeyed.

Assistant’s here to open the bay doors

Android phone owners usually welcome every new OS update due to an influx of new features. Google Assistant is the big new feature in Android 7.1 that comes installed on the new Pixel and Pixel XL phones. We bet you’re looking forward to it on your Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, or even Huawei phone, right?

Keep hoping, because for the moment, it’s not coming. Even when you eventually get version 7.1, Assistant won’t be there. A Google spokesperson told Digital Trends that Assistant is locked to Pixel phones and Google Home. It’s not even certain Assistant will reach Nexus phones with Android 7.1. How’s that for some control?

hands-on-google-home_4646
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

CEO Sundar Pichai said, “We’re evolving from a mobile-first to an AI-first world,” and its new hardware range based around the Assistant reflects this statement. However, Google’s not silly. It knows for its AI products to succeed, others will have to link into it, so it’s giving up a little bit of control with the Assistant SDK, where third-party developers and companies can make their own Assistant compatible devices, or add support to existing ones.

Because Assistant only works with a Pixel phone and Google Home for now, Google is tempting you to buy these devices, so it can pull you deeper into its growing ecosystem. The Pixel phones are expensive, but Home and Chromecast are considerably cheaper. They’re lovely little add-on products thrown into your basket as you reach the checkout. Google’s Allo messaging app, which also features Assistant, is even better because it’s free. Next year when Android Wear 2.0 is finally released, Assistant will be present in the form of Smart Reply.

Google Fall Event: Google Home wants to run your household

To get the most from Assistant — and it’s the real heart of Google’s ecosystem — you’ll need to buy the hardware, use the apps, and relinquish control of your music, movies, apps, calendar, email, and just about everything else to Google.

Sound familiar?

Hold on. We’re pretty used to these tactics. Apple, Amazon, and Facebook work tirelessly to keep you in the family, and most of us are happy to accept it. Many people feel safe. Protected. But you knew what it meant when you signed the deal with these companies. There was never any pretense. If you didn’t like it, you went somewhere else. Like Google.

Not anymore, and that’s what makes this rather distasteful. Google was always a bit different, never truly committed to keeping you held hostage. It held an open-door policy, if you like. Now, if you want the latest and greatest features in Android 7.1 and want to enjoy the amazing features that Assistant offers, you’re going to have to do what Google says, just like HTC. Not only that, Google’s taking all the best bits and not sharing them, so at least for the foreseeable future, buying any other Android phone means being on the outside looking in. Who knows what you’ll miss out on next.

It’s almost like the problems with not getting updates applied to other Android phones on a timely basis, the substandard user interfaces placed over the top of Android, and the inconsistent quality of Nexus releases got to be a little too much. Enough, said Google. Let’s just do it ourselves. It’s understandable, and now the company has grabbed back the reins.

We get it. It doesn’t mean we have to like it. The technology world didn’t need another full-blown ecosystem vying for our paychecks and attention, and certainly not from the company that was once something of a safe haven from such a thing.

Buy a Pixel if you want. Use Assistant. Just be aware of what you’re getting into, because it’s not the same Google we once knew.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Mobile

Only Google should be mad about having to change Android

Google has been hit with a massive fine in a landmark antitrust case in Europe, and has been told to change the way it manages its Android operating system, or face a heavier financial hit.
Mobile

Visual snapshots on Google Assistant provides your day at a glance

Google's artificially intelligent bot, Google Assistant, is available on smart home speakers, smart home devices, iOS and Android phones, and it can do a whole lot of work on your behalf. Here are all of its features.
Smart Home

How to set up your Google Home device in 10 easy steps

This device can do a whole lot, from playing music to reading the weather to controlling your smart home devices. We break down how to set up your Google Home so that you can get started enjoying all the things this product can do.
Smart Home

Which is better, the Amazon Echo or the Google Home? We took a look at both

What happens when you compare the Google Home vs the Amazon Echo? Both smart speakers have good qualities, but what happens when you compare they're features side-by-side? We think one of these smart gadgets wins over the other.
Mobile

Want to watch Netflix in bed or browse the web? We have a tablet for everyone

There’s so much choice when shopping for a new tablet that it can be hard to pick the right one. From iPads to Android, these are our picks for the best tablets you can buy right now whatever your budget.
Deals

Save up to $900 with the best smartphone deals for July 2018

Need a better phone but don't want to spend a fortune? It's never a bad time to score a new smartphone and save some cash. We've rounded up the best smartphone deals available that can save you as much as $900.
Computing

You can use Chrome OS on a tablet, but it’s not an iPad competitor yet

We took a look at the first Chrome OS tablet to hit the market, the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, to see just how Google's lightweight tablet runs on a touch-only device thanks to a few new tablet-centric features.
Podcasts

Apple Music vs Spotify, Smart Speaker battle, Google Duplex may answer your call

On today's episode: Apple Music is beating Spotify in paid subscribers, but is it a better service? The HomePod is falling behind in the smart speaker battles to Google and Amazon. Google Duplex AI may be answering your phone calls soon…
Mobile

HTC U12 Plus will be the first phone to feature the CryptoKitties mobile app

HTC has released some pretty great flagship phones in the past few years, and it's now aiming to follow up with another one. After plenty of rumors and leaks, the company has finally taken the wraps off of the new HTC U12 Plus.
Mobile

Google is replacing some Pixel 2 handsets due to faulty rear cameras

Google’s Pixel 2 smartphones have plenty to recommend them, but they’re not perfect. We've rounded up the most common Pixel 2 issues and Pixel 2 XL problems here and identify workarounds or fixes to help you cope with them.
Home Theater

How to watch Amazon Instant Video on Chromecast or Android TV

Amazon won't add Chromecast capability to its Instant Video app for Android any time soon, and it won't release an app for Android TV. But there's still a way to get that video on your TV by using your computer and a browser extension.
Mobile

Juice up your iPhone or Android phone with the best wireless chargers

We checked out the best wireless phone chargers to make tangles and uncooperative ports a thing of the past. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, find out which wireless charging pads are worth buying, and how their features compare.
Android Army

From Apple’s charging mat to Google’s modular phone, these gadgets went MIA

Sometimes tech companies unveil a new gadget or tease a new product but never actually deliver. Plans get changed, things go wrong, and products are canceled. It’s time to look at some of the most exciting tech that never materialized.
Deals

Walmart slashes Google Home prices for Prime Day

Prime Day is a great time to find great deals on Echo devices, but if you use Google for all of your smart home needs, Walmart is offering steep discounts on Google Home, Google Home Mini, and Google Home Max to stay competitive.
Mobile

Google Assistant’s new Visual Snapshot tab prepares you for the day

Ever wish you could get an instant update of your day at a glance? Google Assistant now can show you upcoming travel plans, deliveries, bills and more as a part of the new Visual Snapshot feature. It's available on Android and iOS.
Mobile

Corning’s Gorilla Glass 6 will help your phone survive up to 15 drops before it shatters

Corning has finally taken the wraps off of the long-awaited Gorilla Glass 6 -- a glass that will be used to protect the next generation of smartphones -- which allows your phone to survive up to 15 drops before it breaks.
Computing

Relive 1998 as live chat rooms roll out across Reddit in a limited beta

Reddit is slowly rolling out real-time chat rooms across a limited number of subreddits. Currently in beta, Reddit Chat went live in 2017 for a small group of around 7,000 users. Reddit is now expanding this service.
Mobile

These are the best video chat apps to help you stay in touch

Though still relatively new, video chat apps can help you connect with people from around the world. Here are our personal favorites to help you keep in touch regardless of smartphone OS.
Mobile

These might be the best photos shot with an iPhone in 2018

The iPhone Photography Awards (IPPAWARDS) announced its official winners of its 11th annual global competition. Each one was selected from thousands of entries spanning over 140 countries around the world.
Mobile

Apple's third iOS 12 beta may help you save a lot of data

At this year's Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple unveiled its latest operating system, iOS 12. From app updates to group FaceTime, ARKit 2.0, and more, here are all the new features in iOS 12.
Home Theater

What is MHL, exactly, and how does it work with your TV?

There are more ways to mirror your smartphone or tablet to your TV than you might think. Check out our rundown of MHL for everything you need to know about the wired protocol and its myriad uses.
Music

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.