With Secrets like These

Google Leaks Left Little to the Imagination

Yesterday, Google announced six new hardware products: two smartphones, a virtual reality headset, a 4K-capable Chromecast video streaming device, a Wi-Fi router and a home assistant similar to Amazon’s Echo.

Google revealed interesting products, but none ground-breaking. The five-inch Pixel and 5.5-inch Pixel XL smartphones were strong hardware additions to Google’s line-up, but their built-in Assistant service was the real standout feature. Google’s accompanying Daydream virtual reality headset was notable for its good looks — we had been hoping for more-attractive virtual reality devices (see Virtual Bulk). Google Wi-Fi is a router designed to remove many of the pain points with current WLAN equipment. Chromecast Ultra is a future-proof version of Google’s video streaming TV, supporting 4K and HDR video.

Google Home, the company’s new digital assistant, is a speaker connected to Google’s artificial intelligence engine. Like Amazon’s Echo, Google Home listens and responds to user commands. With its new generation of products, Google is tying device and service closer together.

Those who watched the presentation may have noted there were few gasps from the audience. There was no amazement or shock. Each of the products had been leaked in some way well before the launch event, in some cases with detailed accuracy. We had previously written about the leak culture we live and work in (see Death of Surprise). In this age of blogging and tweeting and constant connectivity, it’s not easy keeping secrets for long.

Google’s Pixel phones had leaked long ago under the code names Sailfish and Marlin. There was a near-constant flow of details and hints that kept the story alive and in the headlines. Drip by drip, the leaks continued; from pictures to specifications and software, it was clear what was coming. The story was similar for Google’s other new products.

There are certainly strategic disadvantages to being uncovered so early. Rivals, for example, have more time to organise a response. But undoubtedly leaks build anticipation. They generated a life force going into Google’s event.

Even if yesterday’s unveilings were anticlimactic, it’s unlikely to alter sales in anyway. Google’s marketing campaign received a running start. Spoiler alerts can work.