Although there were plenty of rumors and high expectations, it was still a bit of a miracle that Google came out with a foldable phone. After all, it didn’t exactly hold tablets in high regard, so a phone that transforms into one would have probably been even less within Google’s radars. Of course, that’s now history with the launch of the Pixel Fold, Google’s first and so far only foldable, which turned out to be quite popular, especially with its design. It turns out, there was a slim possibility that the Pixel Fold could have turned out very differently and looked more like Samsung’s design, at least based on a prototype that is now running over the Internet.
Designer: Google (via Mishaal Rahman)
Phone manufacturers go through numerous prototypes before settling on a final design, especially when the device is rather new or unconventional. That’s true for seasoned brands like Samsung, and even truer for the likes of Google, and a device codenamed “jumbojack” was spotted nearly four years ago as Google’s foldable prototype. Now that name has become a real device, at least based on what is allegedly that very same prototype device which happens to be a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.
This “jumbojack” foldable doesn’t look like a custom prototype made by Google but an actual Galaxy Z Fold 2 that has been repurposed to run “stock” Android stripped of Samsung’s branding. It’s pretty much a quick and easy way for Google to test its Pixel user experience on a foldable without having to go through the trouble of assembling a prototype. That said, the final flavor of Pixel is quite different since it was designed to work on a foldable with a distinctly different form factor.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
The prototype does raise the question of whether Google actually considered following in Samsung’s footsteps to adopt a design that was already in use for a few years by that time. That meant that it would have used a design that resulted in a narrower external display, a squarish unfolded shape, and possibly a gap at the hinge when folded. Perhaps it was for the best that it went the other way and used a design more similar to the OPPO Find N, which was wider, a little smaller, and also a bit more comfortable to hold.
Then again, the “jumbojack” prototype might have simply been used to test the software without committing to the device’s design. Unfortunately, there are now rumors that Google might actually be heading towards Samsung’s direction for the Pixel Fold 2, along with a camera design that’s sure to cause some controversy. If anything, this alleged prototype only proves that there is still plenty of room for improvement in the foldable phone design space, but recent rumors are already painting a rather bleak future in that regard.
Just like with the Apple Vision Pro, Google’s entry into the foldable smartphone market has been a long time coming. Given how the Android maker itself has been rather slow on jumping on trends, there might have even been a chance that it would snub the form factor completely. After all, it showed tablets no true love, even if big Android slates have been around for years. For better or worse, Google did decide to join that bandwagon, which isn’t always an assurance that it will work on a second-gen device. Now it seems that a Pixel Fold 2 is indeed in the works, at least based on a blurry leak, but that small glimpse might be dashing some hopes, as word of Google’s big changes also comes with questions about its design goals.
There are two distinctive elements of the Google Pixel Fold’s design. The most prominent is its camera bar, an approximation of the “visor” design that it uses on its Pixel phones. The other is the external or second screen’s wider aspect ratio, which meant that the unfolded device would also be wider and take on a horizontal or landscape form factor. It’s a design that was more conducive for wider content like videos as well as splitting the screen between two panels or two apps. More importantly, however, it meant that the folded phone was more comfortable to use and hold, almost like a regular phone.
A single leaked photo of the Pixel Fold 2 might be leaving some fans scratching their heads. The external display is noted to be narrower, as per the source, which inches it a bit closer to the awkwardness of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold, though thankfully not yet on that level. This also means that, when unfolding the phone, you will be greeted with an internal screen that is more square than rectangular.
The biggest change, however, seems to be the camera, which moves away from the bar design to a bump that sits in a corner of the Pixel Fold 2’s back. It’s not the same square design as older Pixel phones, nor is it even similar to rectangular camera islands that run vertically down. Instead, it seems that this box will march across the width of the phone, taking up almost two-thirds of the space.
Granted, the photo is an alleged prototype only, so there is no guarantee that the final Pixel Fold 2 will take this form. If it does, however, Google might be facing a bit of a backlash for changing the design so drastically and in such an unappealing manner. It will be interesting to see how the Pixel Fold 2 will actually look like in the end, and we might not even see a shadow of it until Google I/O 2024, which should happen sometime in May or June.
When Google launched the Pixel 8 Pro, it revealed a feature that seemed to be a solution looking for a problem. It had a temperature sensor, one of if not the first to debut on a smartphone, that was advertised as a way to, well, check the temperature of food or your baby’s water bottle. There were leaks claiming that it could also take your body’s temperature, but that never came to pass, at least until now. Google finally let the cat out of the bag that it was just waiting for FDA approval, so the Pixel 8 Pro is now capable of reading your body temp, though the exact process and usefulness of that feature still remains a big question mark.
Why would you want to use your phone to read your own temperature anyway? That’s because many people have been quite obsessed with checking their body temperature ever since the recent pandemic, and short of awkwardly carrying a thermometer with you all the time, using a smartphone is the next best thing. But since the feature would be used to take the place of a medical device, it needed regulatory approval first, which Google finally got.
According to the tech giant, the secret to this feature is the infrared sensor that’s positioned right beside its cameras. Before this body temperature feature was finally released, all it was allowed to do was measure the temperature of non-living objects by holding the phone no farther than two inches from the target. Unsurprisingly, there’s only a limited number of applications for such a thermometer, so it was like a feature that buyers were paying for but couldn’t fully use. The narrative now changes with the addition of body temperature readings, but it might not be a clear win either.
It uses the infrared radiation, a.k.a. heat, that our body generates to make this reading, but Google claims it does one better than the typical forehead digital thermometers commonly used today. It measures the temporal artery, that is, the artery located on your temple, to get a more accurate reading. Of course, the data is further processed by an AI-powered algorithm before being displayed on the Pixel thermometer app. The process, however, isn’t as quick or as straightforward as those forehead thermometers. You need to first hold the Pixel 8 Pro two inches away from the center of your forehead, wait for the beep to signal the start of the scanning process, and then swipe the phone toward your temple, all in just four seconds. The scanning automatically stops after four seconds, so the accuracy of the reading also depends on how accurate your movements are.
Although Google is quite confident in the accuracy of this feature, it’s still a bit doubtful how much use it will get in real life. Admittedly, body temperature reading is far more useful than precariously placing your phone so close to a hot object, let alone one that’s giving off smoke or steam. Fortunately, the Feature Drop that delivered this feature on Pixel phones also has other goodies, like Circle to Search which was first announced on the Samsung Galaxy S24 series. Google is also launching a new Mint Green flavor of the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, in case you’re still in the market for a new phone, especially one that you can also use as a thermometer.
At YD, we live by the fundamental belief that there’s nothing more powerful than an idea. Concepts have always enthralled us, because they represent what our future could look like, and that’s where designers come in with their unique skill – imagining this conceptual alternate reality on behalf of all of us. As we come to a grand close to 2023, we look back at some of the concepts that we (and you, surely) loved. These concepts represent some of the most intriguing ideas and visions of the year, like imagining what a proper PlayStation Portable in the modern age would look like, or even the Gen-2 CyberTruck for instance. We’re even crowning one of these concepts as our “Best Concept Design of 2023” for its sheer vision, attention to detail, and the fact that it just ever so slightly made us want to throw money at our screens. Want to know what it was? Want to also see the other concepts that made it to this ‘Best of’ list? Scroll down to find out!
1. MOI3D Gaming Console by Vadim Danilkov (Best Concept Design of 2023)
We loved this console for a few reasons. Aside from the fact that it’s detailed down to the last screw and capacitor (check the video), it’s also a tsunami of absolute nostalgia. The MOI3D is a handheld console concept that’s designed to run any PlayStation CD right back to the 1994 PS One. It comes with all the bells and whistles, starting from a screen on the front and a CD-reader on the bottom to action buttons (including L1/L2 and R1/R2), HDMI out, USB-C charging, a CD tray button, and front-firing speakers. Notably, it lacks a 3.5mm audio jack but more than makes up for it with backward compatibility with games from as long as 30 years ago when the PlayStation first debuted!
Why it’s noteworthy?
The Best Design title doesn’t come easy. We rate our designs on their brief, their output, the level of detail, their originality, and their overall appeal and the MOI3D smashed it out of the park on all levels. The amount of detail is dizzying, and the prospect of being able to play all your favorite PS games on one handheld console is even more exciting!
2. Tesla Cybertruck 2.0 by Dejan Hristov
As the Cybertruck FINALLY begins delivering to customers who first ordered it back in 2019 (if they were ready to pay that tear-jerking new price), we decided it was time to plan for the next big thing. Dejan Hristov’s Cybertruck 2.0 really caught our fancy for its unique design. It was eye-catching and iconic without being polarizing, and still somehow stuck to the Cybertruck’s design language without looking like it was made using origami. The gentle curves do a wonderful job of reflecting light and the world around it, creating the truck’s overall appeal, and if that rear truck bed wasn’t enough storage, this one also sports a frunk that opens like a drawer cabinet!
Why is it noteworthy?
Hristov’s design paints an arguably less polarizing picture of the Cybertruck but retains its overall soul. When Musk made a point that all pickup trucks looked the same, he wasn’t wrong. Hristov carries that torch but creates an EV that looks different without looking ugly.
03. Apple iPhone Ultra by Jimmy Huynh
We all thought Apple would drop an iPhone Ultra this year, but the company delivered something just as good – an iPhone Pro series made from titanium, with USB-C, and an Action button. Sure, it doesn’t look as captivating as this particular concept by Jimmy Huynh, but we love it all the same. As far as this iPhone Ultra concept goes, Huynh retained the Watch Ultra’s aesthetic beautifully, with a gorgeous crown, orange action button, and that nude titanium finish that culminates in those speaker grills at the bottom. Sure, some might find that odd bump on the side unappealing, but we appreciate anything we can rest our fingers against as we hold this phone up.
Why is it noteworthy?
It’s been a hot minute since Apple announced any new iPhone range. The Watch got an Ultra debut last year, but Apple’s stuck to the iPhone, SE, and Pro range for years now. Although some say there wouldn’t be much difference between the Pro and the Ultra, we disagree. The Ultra isn’t a creative-aligned iPhone. It’s an iPhone that’s built like a brick. Incredible sturdiness, game-changing resilience, and the kind of software security that would make it perfect for government officials (perhaps even the ones in the CCP)!
04. Nothing Power Bank by Subhav Menon Srivastava
Last year Nothing created waves with its first transparent-bodied smartphone, and while we got the Nothing Phone (2) this year, we were hoping for a few phone-adjacent accessories. A Nothing Power Bank, for example. This transparent portable charger from the mind of Subhav Menon Srivastava has us drooling because of how gorgeous it looks. While most power banks have nothing more than an Li-ion battery and a PCB, Srivastava makes things interesting with printed elements on the outer glass, and an LED display that shows the battery percentage of the power bank. You’ve also got a whopping 10,000 mAh battery on the inside, and a few LED lights that bring the power bank to life when plugged in.
Why is it noteworthy?
Our readers certainly loved the Nothing Power Bank, with 60,000 views on the concept. That pretty much affirms that there’s public demand for the Nothing Power Bank, so if Carl Pei is reading this…
05. Apple Mac Nano by Le KBM
Sometime in 2022 (or probably earlier) a patent surfaced for an Apple keyboard with its own Mac computer built into it. Given that Apple was developing its own silicone line, at the time this made absolute sense. Fit an entire Mac into a keyboard and you had yourself a makeshift Mac Mini with you! Plug a display in and you were ready to go (maybe you’d need a trackpad or mouse too, but you get my drift). Designer Le KBM decided to build out this vision, creating the Mac Nano concept. The concept features a rejuvenated Magic Keyboard with a touchbar on top and an M-series chip inside, giving it laptop-worthy computing power in the format of a keyboard. Hook an iPad or an iPhone to it and you have yourself a renegade Mac with a touchscreen. What’s not to love?!
Why is it noteworthy?
Conceptually, the Mac Nano seems somewhat strange but then again, the Mac Mini was an odd concept too. Why create a portable Mac when the MacBook Pro was already a thing? Well, the Mac Mini sort of found its own place in the Apple ecosystem, and for people looking for an ‘Air’ version of that, the Mac Nano is the perfect choice! Plus, we haven’t seen a ‘nano’ Apple product in a while!
06. PocketMan P1 Handheld Console by Grzegorz Rozwadowski (Twig Studio)
The PocketMan P1, inspired by Teenage Engineering’s raw, industrial design, boasts a sleek metal-first aesthetic with exposed screws. It features essential controls like a D-pad, action buttons, multiple joysticks, and four shoulder buttons. It also offers a USB-C port, a 3.5mm aux jack, and card readers on both sides for game loading. The black-and-white screen gives it a retro touch, possibly with an option for a color display. While currently a concept, the P1 showcases minimalist metallic design, rejecting the need for excessive ergonomics and RGB lighting in gaming hardware.
Why is it noteworthy?
Aside from that nostalgic handheld form factor, there’s a lot to be appreciated about how wonderfully cyberpunk the PocketManP1 looks. When your eyes aren’t immersed in the game, they’ll probably be admiring every inch of the P1’s metallic design while your hands familiarize themselves with every single button, trigger, and joystick.
07. Note Digital+Analog Desk Accessory by Harshit Sahu
Part digital clock/calendar, part whiteboard, and part pinboard, this Note-taking desk accessory has the best of all worlds. It’s essentially a compact whiteboard that can flip over, doubling your writing space. One side features a dotted grid for diagrams, while the other can be plain or carry the same design. Sticky notes can also find their place on this versatile board. What sets Note apart is the addition of a multi-purpose vertical screen on the left side, displaying the time, calendar, and synced appointments from your phone. It even offers functions like a timer, world clock, and music player.
Why is it noteworthy?
“Paper can be simple, and apps can be quick, but not everyone needs all the commitment that these two different note-taking methods sometimes require,” says our Co-Editor-in-Chief JC Torres. This piece of digital stationery may not be a revolutionary device, but its creative integration of analog and digital concepts makes it a focused and efficient tool for specific needs. It simplifies your workflow without overwhelming you with unnecessary features, ensuring that your productivity remains the top priority.
08. Sony Playstation XPERIA by Santosh Palaniappan
This one’s a classic case of “what could have been”. Designed by Santosh Palaniappan, the PlayStation XPERIA is the perfect hybrid between a smartphone and a gaming device, combining the company’s two successful product lines. Featuring a sliding display that reveals gaming controls underneath, along with a triple-camera setup, it offers versatility beyond gaming. Messaging, internet browsing, selfies, movie watching, and social media game streaming become seamless possibilities. The PlayStation Xperia strikes a balance between smartphone and gaming device aesthetics, combining the functionality of a smartphone with the visual appeal of the PS5. Its white and black design with textured grips and the iconic PlayStation symbol microtexture on the rear exudes elegance. Front-facing speakers enhance the media and gaming experience, and sliding the screen transforms it into a handheld console.
Why is it noteworthy?
With a focus on both gaming and smartphone capabilities, the PlayStation Xperia concept offers a promising vision for Sony’s future product lineup, blending the best of both worlds for tech enthusiasts and gamers alike. It doesn’t compromise on anything a gamer would want in their phone or their handheld console, and let’s be absolutely honest, it looks positively drool-worthy!
09. Ford Mini Bronco by Naoto Kobayashi
Ever seen an off-roader coupe? Well, feast your eyes on the Ford Mini Bronco, a two-door off-roader that we absolutely wish was real. Crafted by designer Naoto Kobayashi, the Ford Mini Bronco boasts a unique design with distinctive pixel-inspired headlights in the front and dynamic taillights at the rear. It’s ideal for a group of two or three adventurers looking to hit the off-road and embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle. This compact EV offers SUV-like excitement without the fuel consumption of larger Ford vehicles. However, it’s important to note that the Ford Mini Bronco is currently just a concept, a vision of what the future of transportation could hold. We can only hope that one day, this remarkable concept will become a reality.
Why is it noteworthy?
The Mini Bronco is a small-format-large-ambitions car that really doesn’t compromise on space or features. The lack of two extra passenger seats means the Mini Bronco has a spacious rear, perfect for storing your outdoor gear. Its short wheelbase and minimal overhangs (on the front and rear) promise enhanced off-road capabilities, and Kobayashi even managed to fit a large-size tent on the top that people can sleep in!
10. Google G Spot Tracking Device by Obi Fidler
Google will help you search for a lot of things, but this is a first! Meet the G Spot, an audacious concept from the mind of Obi Fidler that doubles as Google’s first-ever tracking device. The G Spot is a sleek and compact GPS smart tracker that takes inspiration from Apple’s popular AirTag. This innovative device boasts a conveniently small form factor, making it a breeze to carry around discreetly. What sets it apart is its seamless integration with Google’s robust ecosystem, allowing you to effortlessly track its whereabouts through the Find My Device and Google Maps services… and obviously that name, which I will never tire of saying!
Why is it noteworthy?
This one makes the list just for how much of a belly laugh it gave us as we first saw it online. The entire project is an absolute riot, making fun of what could be Google’s tracking device. Hilariously named the G Spot, this tracking device comes equipped with a tensor chip and a whole lot of double entendres!
When Google Japan sets its mind to celebrating creativity, you can expect nothing less than the astonishing. Every October 1st, the tech wizards at Google Japan drop a keyboard surprise that leaves us all agog. This time, it’s a spectacular hat that redefines typing as we know it!
Introducing the Gboard Caps: a keyboard you wear as a cap. It’s a single-key keyboard hat shaped like a colossal keycap. This wearable is not your ordinary hat; it’s an invention that transforms the way we input characters on smartphones or computers. With Gboard Caps, you can type without lifting a finger – well, except you move your head!
You can don this hat and type out characters by tilting your head in different directions. The hat houses a gyroscope that deciphers your head’s movements into characters, which are then sent to your computer or smartphone via Bluetooth with the tap of this large keycap on the head.
To that accord, Gboard CAPS is no one-trick pony. Its six-axis inertial sensor detects the angle at which you position it, and you can cycle through characters by swaying your head left or right. Confirming your selection – with a tap on the head – triggers a satisfying click sound, reminiscent of your trusty old keyboard.
When you’re not typing, this wearable keyboard serves as a stylish hat, ensuring that fashion meets function seamlessly. Google Japan has even thought about customization, including expansion modules such as a mesh module that keeps your cap in perfect shape over time, and a Caps Lock module with a chin strap to prevent any unplanned hat-drops. Gboard also plans a built-in display in the future for the hat.
The most exciting part is that you can create your own Gboard Caps at home. The firmware and hardware design for the Gboard Caps version – released on October 1, 2023 – is shared on Github. Even though it’s not an official Google product, it’s a DIY that provides a glimpse into the future of wearables and tech creativity to make typing less boring!
On Wednesday, Google unveiled its latest products and software updates during the ‘Made by Google’ event. The new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro smartphones stole the show, featuring the advanced Tensor G3 chip, which Google claims is their most powerful chip yet. With this new chipset, both devices offer numerous AI features, making the Pixel 8’s machine learning model ten times more complex than the previous model, the Pixel 7.
This year, Google has kept the iconic design of the Pixel while making some subtle changes. The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro feature rounded corners, giving them a softer look. Both models are available in unique colors such as Hazel, Rose, Obsidian, Porcelain, and a new blue color called Bay. The matte finish on the back of the Pixel 8 Pro adds a touch of elegance.
Google has introduced several new features to enhance its user experience. In addition to its existing innovations, the Call Screen feature can now effectively filter out spam calls, while the Clear Calling and Audio Magic Eraser features ensure clear audio and video communication. Furthermore, Google Assistant has improved its capabilities, allowing it to summarize text from websites and create summaries of audio captured in the Recorder app. This ensures that voice-generated messages are quicker and smoother for users.
The displays have been ramped up in brightness, reaching up to 2,400 nits on the Pixel 8 Pro, ensuring crystal-clear visibility indoors and outdoors. The smaller Pixel 8 now operates at a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, matching the fluidity traditionally reserved for more premium models.
In the camera department, the Pixel 8 sports a robust 50-megapixel main camera, while the Pro variant pushes the envelope with a 48-megapixel Quad PD ultrawide and telephoto lens, coupled with Google’s image-processing prowess to capture stunning visuals.
Inside, the phones house the new Tensor G3 chip, marking the third generation of Google’s in-house silicon. While the performance boost wasn’t overly emphasized, the real deal lies in the enhanced AI processing capabilities, promising a smarter smartphone experience.
Google promises an unprecedented seven years of security and feature updates, reinforced by camera and mic toggles, Google One VPN, and a Titan M2 security coprocessor.
Moving on to wearables, the Pixel Watch 2 made a grand entrance with a sleek design and enhanced health and fitness tracking features. The watch now boasts a new multi-path heart rate sensor and a body-response sensor, helping users stay on top of their wellness game.
The Pixel Buds Pro also made a cameo with new color variants and features like a low-latency mode and Conversation Detection to enrich the audio experience.
On the software frontier, Android 14 was rolled out with a focus on customization and enhanced accessibility settings. Additionally, the Assistant is set to become more intuitive and handy with integrating Bard AI, aiming to provide a more seamless user experience across various apps and services.
Google’s latest additions to their product line showcase their signature blend of modern design and advanced software capabilities. The Pixel devices and Pixel Watch 2 cater to photography enthusiasts, tech geeks, and anyone seeking a reliable and intuitive companion, providing an elevated user experience.
It’s well known that the Apple Watch isn’t a watch – it’s a cutting-edge medical and fitness wearable that also tells the time. Every September, Tim Cook relays stories from regular consumers of how the Apple Watch saved their lives, and it seems like Google’s borrowing a page from its biggest rival. The Pixel Watch 2 made its official debut today and the one thing that stood out was how Google was integrating FitBit into the Pixel Watch to make it an effective health wearable… but that wasn’t all. Aside from just being a flagship fitness and health-monitoring watch, Google also leaned heavily into its AI expertise to make the Pixel Watch 2 a powerful smart wearable. In a rare first, Apple may have pioneered the health wearable… but thanks to its AI abilities, Google is perfecting it.
Google’s parent company Alphabet announced its bid to acquire FitBit in 2019 – a process that was finally completed in 2021. At the time, it seemed odd, given that Google didn’t have a single fitness wearable or smartwatch of its own… but nearly 4 years after its initial announcement, the Pixel Watch 2 is revealing the payoffs of that collaboration.
The Pixel Watch 2 boasts the same teardrop design as its predecessor, but with new hardware and software upgrades. On the software front, the Watch 2 has support for new apps like Gmail and Calendar along with improvements to YouTube Music, Google Assistant, and third-party apps like WhatsApp, Audible, etc. It now also sports the Safety Check feature that Google introduced last year with the Pixel 7 smartphone, allowing your watch to notify your emergency contacts if you don’t respond within a certain time frame – perfect for students, commuters, or anyone who needs a guardian/friend/family member to check in on them.
The hardware upgrade involves an improved heart-rate monitor that is 10x more efficient and accurate than the one on the 1st Gen Pixel Watch, thanks to Google opting for a multi-path sensor that works in tandem with an improved ML algorithm. The watch also has a skin temperature sensor and a continuous electrodermal activity sensor for measuring sleep quality as well as detecting changes in emotion like the feeling of stress.
Where the Pixel Watch 2 really begins overtaking the Apple Watch is in how it deals with the data it gathers from its hardware and sensors. A new and improved AI Assistant now offers a much more intuitive approach to tracking your health. Fitness data gets logged into the Watch 2’s new Fitbit app, with a redesigned interface for the smartphone… but what’s really impressive is the AI’s ability to parse that data in much more meaningful ways. You can now ask the Fitbit app whether there was any improvement between yesterday’s and today’s exercise routine, or if it notices any anomalies in your fitness based on your performance. This new AI-driven approach offers much better insights into your fitness in ways that the Apple Watch probably can’t. Sure, the Watch and Watch Ultra can gather your health and exercise data in expert ways, but what they truly lack is that layer of AI that lets you ‘talk to your data’ to learn things that you probably wouldn’t by simply looking at a chart, graph, or app.
The Watch 2 comes made using recycled aluminum (yet another page from the Carbon Neutral Apple playbook), and sports a 24-hour battery life despite its always-on display. It has the same strap attachment system, so you can use existing straps from the previous model with your new wearable. Each Pixel Watch 2 comes with 6 months of Fitbit Premium, and a month of YouTube Music Premium free, and sports a $349 price tag.
The idea of being an Apple or Android superfan made a lot of sense 10 years ago when there were substantial differences between the two brands. Today, the two operating systems share an entire host of similarities. Both have overlapping features that make them compelling alternatives to each other, and the only truly defining difference at this point is their individual ecosystems or walled gardens… that was until today when Google revealed their Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro.
While outwardly, the Pixel 8 series and the iPhone 15 series share a ton of pretty great features, it’s remarkable what Google’s managed to achieve with its AI-first approach. Both phones run on custom silicon (the iPhone on the A17 Bionic chip and the Pixel on the Tensor 3 chip), but Google’s strong AI background has resulted in a few surprising new features that set it in a class apart. These features are so game-changing that not only are they not available on any other Android phone, but you won’t find them even on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
The first on this list isn’t an AI-powered feature but rather a hardware one… and a pretty funky one to begin with. The Pixel 8 Pro is the first Pixel phone to come with its own temperature sensor that measures the temperature of anything you point it at. Almost working like an IR thermometer, this sensor lets you see if your drink’s chilled or if your barbecue grill or cast iron is ripping hot. You can measure the outer temperature of food items to know if they’re cooked properly or if your coffee is too hot for consumption. Google has even filed an application with the FDA to allow the sensor to monitor human temperature data, allowing you to check if you have a fever, and sync that data with your fitness device. The temperature sensor on the Pixel 8 Pro is mirrored by a LiDAR sensor on the iPhone 15 Pro, which performs 3D scanning rather than temperature gauging. Sure, they don’t compare given how wildly different they are, but one could argue that the ability to instantly measure the temperature of anything has much more of a real-world impact than the ability to 3D scan.
Last year, Google unveiled some pretty impressive AI-powered editing features within its Photos app, like the ability to unblur photos, to erase objects you didn’t need, and to move certain elements within the photo for a better composition… but what do you do when you click a group photo at the wrong moment when someone’s eyes are closed, or a family photo with the kid making faces while everyone says cheese? Best Take is Google’s answer to that unique problem – if you’re unhappy with someone’s expression in a photo, Best Take simply changes their expression for you. The camera records facial expressions long before you hit the shutter button, giving you multiple options to choose from. The AI simply replaces the ‘bad’ face with a better one, resulting in a computationally altered photo that looks much more appealing. In Google’s words, it replaces the photo you just clicked with the photo you wish you clicked.
This feature, although highly impressive, has a lot of people up in arms because it destroys the very concept of a photograph. Most purists will argue that such a high level of editing pretty much takes away the true beauty of a photograph because it completely alters reality. There’s a significant difference between altering a photo’s white balance and flat-out changing someone’s face… but that vitriolic debate aside, the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro both tout this rather incredible feature that isn’t just missing on the iPhone, it’s probably against the very belief system of the people at Apple.
Audio Magic Eraser
If last year’s magic eraser for photos wasn’t good enough, Google debuted a new Audio Magic Eraser feature for video too! Sort of like noise canceling for videos, the new Audio Magic Eraser feature lets you edit the audio in the video files captured on your phone. Tensor’s powerful AI analyzes the audio and separates the waveforms into multiple categories that you can then either mute or reduce. Recording a vlog on a noisy road? The AI can eliminate the car and crowd noises and keep just your voice (without any fancy microphone or equipment). Trying to sing a song and your dog’s barking away in the background? You can mute your dog entirely in post by simply ‘erasing’ that sound from the overall video! The Audio Magic Eraser is a brilliant example of how far Google’s come with its AI endeavors, and is a major sign for Apple and other companies to jump aboard the AI train.
Video Boost and Night Sight Video
Google’s made some massive improvements to the Pixel’s video-shooting abilities too. The iPhone has somewhat been a bit of an undisputed champion in the video department, but the Pixel 8 Pro’s latest features fire direct shots at Apple. Video Boost is Google’s latest feature for enhancing videos AFTER you’ve shot them. Sort of like how photos get computationally enhanced after you click the shutter button, Google now extends this feature to videos too, processing every single frame individually to tweak the colors, highlight the skin tone, enhance HDRI, and make the output much more vibrant and beautiful than the original footage. Video Boost works retroactively, but only if you’ve got the feature enabled before you shoot your video. Once shot, the video is sent to Google’s cloud servers to process, and then the boosted video is sent back to your phone, available directly in the Photos library.
Enable Video Boost in a low-light environment and you instantly get access to Google’s new Night Sight Video feature. Night sight, whether on Android or iOS, has been limited to photos, but what Google proposes is literally mind-boggling. Just like Video Boost, Night Sight Video enhances every single frame of your low-light video file, enriching it and bringing out details that were previously hidden in the darkness. I imagine somewhere an Apple exec is furious at the fact that the Pixel 8 can now record low-light videos, because after its astrophotography mode, this is yet another significant win for Google over Apple!
If you don’t have upwards of $1,099 to spend on the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s tetraprism camera that shoots 5x optical zoom, this new feature for Pixel phones should impress you. Announced alongside the new Pixel 8 phones, Zoom Enhance is a feature within Google Photos that uses AI to upscale your photos for you. The feature, on its own, might not sound as revolutionary as the Audio Magic Eraser, but it’s the first time a smartphone’s had a generative AI upscaler built right into it. Just pinch to zoom into an existing photo and you’ve now got the option to enhance it using generative AI upscaling technology that felt like science fiction just a few years ago. What’s truly impressive is that the Zoom Enhance feature runs on-device and doesn’t need to use a massive cloud-based AI model. This on-device foundation model is specific to the Tensor 3 chip, and although the Zoom Enhance feature isn’t available immediately, Google promised to roll it out later this year.
Recorder Transcribe + Summarize
Another feature powered by the Pixel’s on-device foundational model is its ability to transcribe and summarize your recordings. Google did announce a Live Transcribe app over 5 years ago, but with the birth of LLMs, the new Recorder is a pretty potent tool that takes the effort out of transcribing all your recordings. It works off the bat, without needing a separate subscription to an AI service. Just hit the record button and the phone creates an audio recording while simultaneously transcribing every recording into an in-depth text file. A summarize button helps condense the entire transcription into actionable pointers. The service runs locally, is free, and makes a strong case for why anyone should choose a Pixel 8 over an iPhone 15.
The Pixel’s impressive AI model also helps sort robocalls from real ones with stunning accuracy. Hit the Call Screen button when your phone rings and the phone’s AI ‘chats’ with the caller to identify the purpose of their call. If it’s spam, the Pixel 8 automatically declines the call for you without you needing to answer, but if it’s important, you can either answer the call or get the AI to respond for you. Perfect for calls that just need small actions from you, the Call Screen feature lets you quickly go about your business instead of being on a call that takes minutes when it should have taken seconds. The Call Screen feature is touted to even work on the Pixel Watch when connected to a Pixel phone.
7 Years of Software Updates (Bonus)
Rick Osterloh also made a pretty surprising announcement at the end of the keynote, stating that the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro would get a whopping 7 years of software updates to keep them running for longer. Most phones get 3 years of updates, the iPhone gets 5, but 7 years is pretty unprecedented for any smartphone. It shows that Google is (at least on paper) serious about what the Pixel means to them and that they want consumers to benefit from it for as long as possible. It also means people will hold onto their Pixel phones for longer, hopefully reducing e-waste and Google’s carbon footprint significantly. Sure, Apple’s got its Carbon Neutral program… but let me know when they offer software support for their iPhones for more than half a decade!
Controversial hot-take: Smart Displays suck. Companies don’t know what they’re doing with them, and their approach feels a lot like they’ve got a solution in search of a problem. No company has successfully flip-flopped on the smart home display issue as much as Google. They acquired Nest, designed a Nest Hub Display, forgot about it a year later, killed the Nexus tablet, forgot about tablets altogether for almost a decade, and then designed the Pixel Tablet as a strange crossover between a tablet and a smart home display. Everyone who’s reviewed it says the same thing – nothing makes sense. Designer Chris Barnes, however, has a better idea… and it borrows directly from an unlikely source of inspiration – the Apple Watch.
Designer: Chris Barnes
Every year, Tim Cook takes the stage at Apple’s main keynote, talking about how the Apple Watch helped save the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people. The watch made a successful impression as a health device, helping detect unusual heartbeats, body temperature, breathing, or even detecting if someone’s fallen. Perpetually strapped to your wrist, the Apple Watch is the perfect ‘guardian angel’ designed within the Cupertino company’s product ecosystem. Google doesn’t have that (yet), but this unique smart home display by Barnes proves to be exactly that. It combines the functionality of the Apple Watch with the large size and usability of a smart home display. Meet the Google OMA concept, an ideal gadget for the elderly or technologically un-savvy to use within their homes.
The Google OMA is an intuitively designed, smart alternative to your average landline and provides an important connectivity experience for elderly people, allowing them to stay in touch with their families. While the Apple Watch does something somewhat similar (allowing you to monitor stats of the elderly wearers for safety’s sake), the Google OMA easily allows both parties to video-call each other whenever possible, providing a video-based communication bridge that’s in line with current technological capabilities.
In essence, the Google OMA is a smart display that’s designed keeping the elderly in mind. Its large screen makes visual elements easy to read and tap, and the circular profile means you’re never holding the Google OMA the wrong way. No matter how you hold it, the circular display orients itself to stay vertical. The Google OMA comes with a curved body that sits on a charging base, and can be un-docked and held in both hands sort of like a cup, allowing elderly people to easily hold their device in a manner that suits them well.
The Google OMA works as a smart personal display rather than just a smart home display, doing the job of a landline, a phone, or an Apple Watch. It sits on a countertop and can be used to play games like sudoku, log in your mood, or contact people using a rotary phone-inspired contact list that just feels familiar. The OMA device can be held in your hand while video chatting, or to your ear for a conventional audio-only experience. It’s designed for people who aren’t used to a lot of new technologies, coming with simple features and functions… and yes, a dedicated home menu also lets you access smart home features, allowing it to do the job of a smart home display too.
What the Google OMA has that the Pixel Tablet doesn’t is clarity of the problem it’s looking to solve. The OMA helps elderly people stay connected with their families, guardians, and friends in an easy, intuitive, and meaningful way. Unlike smart home displays that end up just being glorified screens for album art or the weather, the OMA has a sense of purpose, thanks to a well-defined design brief. Moreover, it allows non-tech consumers to benefit from technology, bringing more people into Google’s ecosystem… and that’s only a good thing.
Dubbed “Design’s Secret Weapon” by Fast Company, Whipsaw’s designs are so ubiquitous they simply can’t be ignored. With over 300 design awards, and nearly a hundred clients comprising the likes of Meta, Google, Samsung, Dell, Ford, Sony, and Peloton, Whipsaw’s work exists across multiple industries, covering the kind of breadth that most design studios only dream of. The studio was founded by Dan Harden in 1999, headquartering in San Francisco, where Whisaw established inroads into what would eventually become the Silicon Valley of the world… However, its impact can be seen across diverse industries including consumer electronics, housewares, computing, robotics, medical, scientific, and commercial products.
This spotlight hopes to capture Whipsaw’s approach to design by chronicling some of its latest work and analyzing the design trends that emerge from them. Whipsaw’s multidisciplinary team of strategists, designers, and engineers work across four categories, covering all aspects of a product journey from research & strategy to industrial design, visual design, and mechanical engineering. In October last year, Harden even announced the formation of the Whipsaw Design Lab (WDL) – a space for designers to truly explore the potential of creative thinking without the constraint of technology, budget, or a ‘client concern’. “WDL has no requirements, clients, timelines, or limits. Just pure Design spelled with a capital D. And most of all, no compromises,” he says.
Created over a period of 3 years, Tonal combines exercise with technology and machine learning to bring the gym trainer to your home. Tonal is a wall-mounted fitness device that offers a unique combination of modern hardware and personalized coaching. Unlike traditional gym equipment that relies on large metal plates and gravity, Tonal uses an electromagnetic resistance engine to provide smooth and precise weight in single-pound increments. This is supplemented by an intelligent touch-sensitive display that acts as your feedback machine, allowing you to measure every ounce of progress as you get through your reps.
The device was a result of a 3-year collaboration between Whipsaw and Tonal. Every aspect of its design was meticulously crafted to ensure optimal performance, durability, and aesthetics. When not in use, Tonal is sleek and unobtrusive, blending seamlessly into any wall. However, when activated, its arms pivot out on vertical columns, allowing for a wide range of exercises, including standing lat pulldowns, low squats, and lateral chest flys. Tonal marks a steady shift in home-based exercise, an emerging trend in the fitness space that also propelled companies like Peloton to fame.
Kabata Smart Weights
Yet another innovation in the fitness space, Kabata smart weights are a revolutionary set of adjustable-weight dumbbells designed for strength training. With just a simple turn of a knob, the weights can be instantly adjusted from 5 to 60 pounds. The weight plates are locked or unlocked together using a hidden camshaft mechanism, allowing you to assemble the desired total weight in 5-pound increments. The Kabata weight handles are equipped with advanced sensors that can detect movement, acceleration, angular velocity, and position, making it easier for you to optimize your workouts. Additionally, the handles feature haptic drivers that vibrate to correct your physical form and motivate you during your workout.
The Kabata isn’t your average pair of weights. The Kabata system is fully connected and comes with a mobile app that incorporates data analytics and predictive AI to automatically adjust the weights for you in tailored workout programs. The app pulls data from the weights to your smartphone, allowing you to access training programs, monitor key performance metrics, and share your workout with your community. This sleek system is a great example of how Whipsaw aims at modernizing a conventional product category by relying on bleeding-edge technology to truly uplift a product’s UX.
Tile Bluetooth Trackers
Creating a Bluetooth Tracker isn’t easy when it’s an absolutely new category. Tile’s first devices were sold in 2013, giving it a significant edge over other trackers like the AirTag, which came nearly 8 years later. This meant pretty much starting with an entirely blank page, which was the challenge for Whipsaw and Tile. The companies have been close collaborators ever since, working on all the newer SKUs like the Mate, Sticker, Slim, Pro, and Ultra. Each Tile device offers a greatly increased finding range of up to 400 feet, a louder ring, and voice-enabled finding through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. “We designed these trackers in several form factors with optional attachment methods in order to fit every use case, whether attached to a key chain, in a wallet, or directly adhered to your favorite items,” say the folks at Whipsaw. “There are many design improvements from our previous 2018 line, including smaller dimensions, lighter weight, and softer forms that feel great in the hand.” Tile was recently awarded #5 on Fast Company‘s list of Most Innovative Companies 2021.
Google Trekker Backpack for Google Earth
Google’s Trekker backpack is a mapping device that works in tandem with Street View, Google Maps, and Google Earth. It captures and creates interactive maps of locations that are inaccessible to vehicles, such as nature trails, iconic landmarks like Machu Picchu, and crowded city centers. The Trekker is a valuable tool for cartographers due to its unique mobility, and it is currently being used to document some of the world’s most magnificent places for everyone to learn about and enjoy. It’s even spawned a sub-culture of travelers committed to revealing new frontiers and sharing their experiences with the global community.
The backpack is an all-in-one system that includes a 360-degree camera array, two positioning LIDARS for mapping terrains, a computer with heat sink cooling, and two hot-swap batteries. For Whipsaw, the challenge was to create a portable solution that was waterproof, highly durable, and worked seamlessly. Additionally, it was also prudent to make the Trekker backpack comfortable for extended wear time, ensuring it was well-balanced, lightweight, and easy to put on and take off.
Koda AI Robot Dog
In 2018, Whipsaw was approached by KODA Inc. to collaborate on a project integrating their fusion multi-processor and AI-based software. The result was the KODA Robot Dog, the first high-end domestic robot dog to run on a decentralized blockchain network. Equipped with an 11 teraflop processor capable of A.I. machine-learning, the KODA Robot Dog relied on a hive-mind of sorts to optimize its behavior. It even sported four 3-dimensional surround-view cameras and 14 motors, including in the neck and tail, giving it dog-like gestural qualities. By sharing data with other KODA dogs on the network, the robot was able to learn from experiences it had never encountered before. For example, a KODA dog in Phoenix could learn how to avoid slipping on ice by receiving knowledge from other KODAs based in colder climates like Anchorage, Alaska, or Toronto, Canada. Whipsaw’s design ensured that the KODA Robot Dog retained a friendly, cute demeanor despite its incredible capabilities.
Bear Robotics Servi Food Service Robot
Sort of like a Roomba for hospitality, the Servi automates table-waiting with its unique design that’s built to help with restaurant workflows by both delivering food to tables and clearing the tables at the end of a meal. When guests arrive, Servi promptly welcomes them with a friendly voice and courteous gestures. Customers can easily place their order with Servi, who then transmits it directly to the kitchen. Once the order is prepared, Servi is equipped with one of her two top platforms to efficiently deliver the food to the designated table. While navigating, Servi adeptly avoids any individuals or obstacles in her path. After the meal, diners can conveniently place their dishes in Servi’s bottom bin as she returns to the table.
Whipsaw considered every type of restaurant environment while developing Servi’s custom design—from cramped and crowded rooms to gleaming banquet halls with spotless interiors—and made her as safe, quiet, and washable as possible. “We also packed a ton of technology into her small footprint so she never gets in the way,” the company says.
We’ve covered a fair number of projectors on YD, and UHT projectors seem to overwhelmingly be the future of the technology. They require no distance from your projection surface, and are capable of vivid, highly detailed imagery, while also projecting audio from in front of you to match the visuals. Hisense and Whipsaw worked extensively to develop a line of UHT projectors with timeless beauty, quality materials, unique form, and exquisite detailing. “Throughout this project, our primary goals were to innovate on product configurations that would be compact enough to compete with standard TVs and to create aesthetic solutions that would excite internal stakeholders and ultimately end-users,” say the Whipsaw team.
PacBio Revio Sequencing System
Proving that there’s really no industry that can’t benefit from Whipsaw’s approach to design innovation, the company worked with PacBio to help design Revio – a gene sequencing system that can be utilized for various purposes such as human genetic analysis, cancer research, and agricultural genomics. The Revio has the capability to sequence up to 1,300 whole human genomes annually for less than $1,000 per genome. Whipsaw collaborated with PacBio to create a new user interaction model and a stunning industrial design for the instrument, which includes an intuitive user interface.
Revio’s bold monolithic design creates an impression of solid reliability, sophistication, and cutting-edge tech. Meanwhile, the black towering box comes with a hint of color, tying in with PacBio’s own visual branding. “Every detail was meticulously crafted for perfection, from the single sheet of back-painted Gorilla glass on the sliding door to the Bugatti-inspired woven wire ventilation grill. The fit and finish are exemplary, with premium materials and textures throughout.”