Google wants to become the one-stop shop of tech

The search giant shows off two smartphones, two streaming devices, a tablet and a new version of its Android software. Google's message is clear: We can be your everything.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company's hardware lineup is more comprehensive than before. James Martin/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Big screens, small screens, movies and music. Google wants to be everything to everyone.

On Tuesday, the search giant simultaneously unveiled two new smartphones, the Nexus 5X made by LG and the Nexus 6P from Huawei. The Mountain View, California-based company also took the wraps off two new Chromecast streaming devices, as well as a the Pixel C, a tablet that converts into a laptop.

"This year we've gone a step forward," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at a press event here. "We have a more comprehensive lineup."

The new products underscore Google's determination to expand the choices that consumers have when buying electronics and simultaneously drive users to its core search service. The Internet giant, soon to reorganize itself under a holding company to be named Alphabet, now sells everything from laptops to thermostats.

Google's desire to sell more electronics pushes consumers toward its real moneymaker: the search, YouTube and maps services that contribute to its more than $65 billion in annual revenue. The strategy has been so successful that the European Commission is investigating the company's business practices around its mobile products. The US Federal Trade Commission has reportedly started a similar investigation.

Google's Nexus devices, like the 5.2-inch 5X and 5.7-inch 6P, run the company's Android mobile operating system. Google gives Android to phone and tablet makers for free, and it now powers more than 80 percent of the world's mobile phones. Companies including Samsung, Motorola and Sony make Android phones, and many alter the software's design and features.

The phones Google presented on Tuesday run an unaltered version of Android and are designed to illustrate Google's full vision for the software. In turn, Google hopes the scope of Android's capabilities will encourage developers to create apps for phones running the software.

"Nexus is Android as we designed it," said David Burke, vice president of Android engineering.

Expanding Nexus

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Google's new Nexus devices will work with Project Fi, the company's experimental wireless service. James Martin/CNET

The new phones are also part of Google's arsenal in its battle with Apple. Last year, Google released a 6-inch Nexus device that straddles the line between phones and tablets. Apple also debuted its first larger-screened phones last year with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus.

Expanding the Nexus line more quickly also helps Google's broader wireless plans. Nexus is an important testing ground for Google's Project Fi, an experimental wireless carrier service that switches between cellular and Wi-Fi signals on the fly. The service, which should curb cell phone bills by reducing the amount of data used, had until now been compatible with only one phone, the Nexus 6, which Google released last year.

Project Fi will work with both new Nexus phones, Google said.

"Google obviously has to give people more choices," said Jan Dawson, principal analyst for Jackdaw Research. "It can't just be on one device."

Chromecasting a wide net

Chromecast Audio
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Chromecast Audio
Chromecast Audio can stream audio to any sound system with a headphone jack. Sarah Tew/CNET

Google also unveiled new Chromecast sticks, which are designed to turn dumb devices, like older TVs or speakers, into Web-ready gizmos for services like Netflix and Spotify. The underlying reasoning is that the company doesn't care whether you buy a Google-made device. It just wants you to use Google's tech to get those devices onto the Web.

Tuesday's event brought an updated version of the Chromecast video streaming device, as well as a new device specifically for streaming audio to any sound system with a headphone jack.

The devices are part of Google's multipronged strategy for getting its technology into homes. Some of Google's gear, such as its Nest thermostat and smoke detector, are the cutting edge of connected home devices. Chromecast devices, by contrast, focus on what you already have.

"We can take your existing speakers and make them smart," said Rishi Chandra, product lead for Chromecast.

So go ahead and buy dumb products, just as long as Google provides the brain power.