Smartphone specs get incrementally better every year. Google's Pixel range, a new generation of which has just been revealed, are no exception. Cameras get a bit better. Processors get a bit faster. They find new places to put home buttons.
But can you honestly say that the massive screen on the iPhone X (complete with "brand identifying" notch) will add much more value over the previous generation iPhones' screens? Is facial recognition unlocking really a clear improvement over the home button? Or how about the new first-world problem of not being able to use a phone while it charges wirelessly on its pad? Are these innovations small steps or giant leaps? If you focus on just the hardware, they're mostly of the small step variety.
With that being said, there have been giant leaps made in this new generation of smartphones: the introduction of truly immersive AR and the growing prominence of AI; the former, with ARKit and ARCore, has been more of a software solution than a hardware one, the latter is more about a smartphone tapping into an AI service that lives outside of the smartphone itself.
Google's latest generation of flagship phones have great specs, but instead of getting into a true spec firefight with other flagship phones, they've been flashing the utility of AI. By making AI the driving force behind the product development of their next generation of hardware, they hope to make smartphone specs - or even the smartphones themselves - less relevant.
Prime example: the new Pixel's wireless headphones, the Pixel Buds. In what could have easily been a story on Google forgetting that it used to mock Apple for getting rid of the headphone jack, instead, most of the talk when it comes to the Pixel Buds has been around real-time translation and the impressive Swedish-to-English live demo conversation. And the reality is, the headphones don't really need to be wireless for that kind of feature to work. The hardware's great, but it's not the main reason the experience is magical.
Few of us buy a new phone and show it to friends and family and say “Look at how fast this runs for apps!” Most of us set the phone down these days and tell Google to turn the flashlight on or solve a tough math problem. That’s the cool part. That’s the part that sells phones (and tablets, and eventually laptops like the Google Pixelbook).