Gestures galore: Google has added a radar into its new Pixel 4

The Pixel 4 is Google’s attempt to build on its recent relative success in the smartphone sphere, with an upgraded mid-price unit that launched at Made by Google. But the handset is also something of a pioneer, as the Google Pixel 4 represents the first time that the radar has appeared in any mobile phone.
The Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. Photo: via Google.

Multi-purpose radar

Radar in the Pixel 4 serves a variety of purposes. The technology works by powering a motion sensor, which can then be used to recognise gestures and drive faster facial unlocking. Google made considerable reference to this new feature in its presentation, and has branded the technology as Motion Sense.

Motion control is nothing new in the smartphone sector, but Google claims that the reason that the innovation has been relatively unreliable thus far is the omission of radar. Google claims that Motion Sense will make it quick and convenient to transmit your location to your phone, and that this will have all manner of benefits.

Google’s much vaunted Soli chip makes this possible, by intelligently scanning for both faces and gestures. The Pixel 4 also includes an infrared camera, which projects infrared dots on to human faces, in a similar fashion to the Face ID included in the iPhone range. But Motion Sense makes this process faster, ensuring that is not necessary to swipe in order to unlock the phone, nor pick the device up in order to trigger its waking mode.

 Google Play has proved highly successful for Google. Photo: Tony Webster via Flickr.

Radar advantages

Among the reasons that Google favors radar for Motion Sense is the longer range associated with the technology, coupled with its lower usage of power. Radar is able to use radio waves in order to identify the size, location, and proximity of objects. Google knows that the technology uses a 60 GHz radio frequency, and that it has passed all required safety measures.

The Pixel 4 radar features a 180-degree field of view, meaning that it has exceptional spatial awareness for a smartphone. Google was also keen to emphasize that all radar data is stored locally on the device, and that Google has no access to it via any server setup. It is possible that Google could extend the functionality of its radar in the future, but the company was quiet on any such plans when questioned on the matter.

India problems

Despite the positives related to the inclusion of radar, there has also been a downside for Google. The mega-corporation has been forced to delay the release of its Pixel 4 smartphone in India, with analysts believing that Motion Sense is the reason for this. The technology relies on a radar frequency which is forbidden in India, meaning that the product is currently incompatible with Indian regulations.

Some early case designs for the Pixel 4. Photo: via Google.

A spokesperson for Google indicated that the company is still “committed to [its] current Pixel phones and look[s] forward to bringing future Pixel devices to India.” But losing access to a country comprised of over one-billion people is obviously a significant short-term blow to Google.

While recent Pixel releases have been relatively successful for Google, resulting in a significant growth in sales, the company is still pretty insignificant in the smartphone marketplace. According to IDC, Google smartphones accounted for under 1% of the devices shipped during the second quarter of 2019.

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