Tech companies are trying to convince us that we need more gadgets and more screens at home. But today at Google’s yearly hardware event, the company took a slightly different tack. Along with announcing a new smart speaker with a screen, Google also showed off a small device that might just render that screen obsolete: A wireless charger than doubles as a phone stand called the Pixel Stand.
This isn’t just a wireless charger. When you place the new Pixel 3 phone on it, the phone’s entire UI reorients, effectively turning Pixel 3 into a Google Assistant-enabled smart speaker. With the Pixel Stand, you don’t need to buy the new $149 Google Home Hub because your phone does most of the same things anyway, including giving you contextual information based on what time of day it is. In the morning, it’ll offer the rundown of your day, which you can access through a single tap or by asking with your voice; in the evening, it might instead show a shortcut to search for recipes.
“We want to give people choices,” says Ivy Ross, Google’s VP of hardware design. “Someone that might not want to have a Hub in every room. This is a beautiful way to do more than one thing at once.”
Because the design team learned that many people leave their phones on their nightstand to charge, the Stand enables a new setting in the Pixel 3 that mimics sunrise alarm clocks, slowly turning the screen from deep red to a bright yellow to wake you up. Google also designed the charger so that you can set up your preferences based on how you want to use it: For instance, setting the Pixel to charge on your nightstand could automatically show pictures of your family, while putting it on a charger at work might show more landscape photos.
By changing the UI and encouraging users to treat it like a smart speaker, the Stand also solves a fundamental problem that other mat wireless chargers have–that you can’t use the phone much while it’s down on the table if you want it to charge.
The $79 charger probably won’t receive the same brouhaha as the other new products Google announced today, but it represents a significant shift: Google is recognizing that you don’t necessarily need more screens in your life besides the one that already lives with you constantly. “If you don’t want to buy anymore, you can make that phone work harder for you and magically morph it into a different kind of service while it’s charging,” Ross says.
The charger is designed to make that screen as useful as possible, potentially cannibalizing Google’s other products in the process. Maybe the Google Home Hub is suited to a larger family, but for individuals who want some of the most-used, basic conveniences of the smart speaker–like asking about the weather, the time, setting timers, and playing music–the Pixel 3 plus the charger can cover all your bases. There’s really only one thing the Pixel plus Stand probably can’t do as well: music. And for that, Google has you covered with its speakers.
“This is a great double purpose for a phone. You already have a screen,” Ross says. “In the future, we’ll do more things with less.”