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Google Takes on Apple with New Pixel Phone, Home Assistant

Technology Reuters

Alphabet Inc's Google on Tuesday announced a new "Pixel" smartphone and a virtual reality headset, the company's latest effort to sell consumers on Google-branded devices and to challenge Apple Inc's iPhone at the high end of the more than $400 billion global market.

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The new phone starts at a price of $649, and Google is working with exclusively with Verizon Communications in the United States, Google executives said at a launch event in San Francisco.

The string of announcements, including a new Wifi router and its voice activated digital assistant for the living room, "Home," is the clearest sign yet that Google intends to compete directly with Apple, and even its own Android mobile operating system customers to create a system of devices and hardware that meet every digital need.

The Pixel also represents a more hands-on policy by Google. Google lets Android device makers modify software almost without limit, which has helped make Android the most-used mobile operating system in the world. But company executives boasted that the Pixel was developed in-house from start to finish.

Shares of Alphabet were up a tick in early afternoon New York trade. Shares of Verizon were down about 1.4 percent.

Google's decision to launch with a single carrier echoes Apple's agreement to launch the original iPhone with AT&T, a deal that gave Apple unprecedented control over the look of the phone and how it worked.

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Google has for years toyed with various approaches to building its own hardware without alienating manufacturers such as Samsung Electronics, the world's top smartphone maker. Google has sold another line of phones, called Nexus, since 2010, but the devices have gained little traction.

Google also announced a "Daydream View" virtual reality headset, which will be available in November for $79, in time for the end-of-year shopping season. Home will be available for $129, including a six-month trial of ad-free YouTube.

Pixel phones will come in black, blue and silver and will have 5 and 5.5 inch (12.7 cm and 14 cm) screens. It will have what Google called the best-rated camera on the market and will be able to get a 7-hour charge in 15 minutes. Pre-orders begin on Tuesday.

Because its mobile software is available so widely, Google has struggled to distinguish its own devices, said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.

Google "wants to have this end-to-end experience, but it's not clear that people really want that," Dawson said.

The Home device represents an important move in an intensifying battle between Google and other major tech players to establish the dominant "digital assistant."

Google Assistant, Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri are vying for supremacy as more people search the web and make purchases online through voice commands, which may eventually supplant keyboards and touchscreens as the primary means of controlling some digital devices. (Reporting by Julia Love, additional writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Bill Rigby and Alan Crosby)