Google’s head of hardware is betting big on ambient computing.

It’s time for Google to turn up the volume — metaphorically — on selling hardware. That was my takeaway from a conversation with Rick Osterloh, the head of Google’s newly named “Devices and Services” division. “We just passed our third-year anniversary as an organization,” he says, but “last year was a really pivotal year.”

It was. In 2018, Google acquired HTC engineers, released the Pixel 3, and finally integrated Nest. This year, Google is beginning to cash in on those decisions. The new Pixel 3A is the first phone to fully utilize the “Taiwan team,” as Google refers to those former HTC employees. And Google has finally made the move to merge its own Home-focused product division with Nest. “Pixel means Google’s first-party phone products,” Osterloh says, “and Nest will mean Google’s first-party home products.”

If Google hardware fails to take off in big numbers in the next couple of years, it won’t be because of a lack of resources or confusion about who makes what at Google. The runway for Google’s hardware has been straightened and cleared. But it has not, to my mind, been lengthened. Five years after founding the division is when Osterloh originally told me he expected to “be selling products in high volumes” when we spoke in 2017. So he doesn’t have a lot of time left.

This year, Osterloh says that Google’s hardware sales numbers are “good, but not where we want to be at the end of five years.” Investors seem to agree, hammering CEO Sundar Pichai about how hardware hasn’t made much of a contribution to Google’s bottom line in the last quarterly call.

So it’s no surprise that Google is looking to juice those numbers by selling a new, lower-cost Pixel phone. The Pixel 3A starts at $399, but has the same industry-leading camera found on the more expensive Pixel 3. The 3A is not only inexpensive, but also available on more US carriers — everybody but AT&T, basically.

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