A little over an hour into Google’s Pixel 2 event yesterday, Senior Director of Product Management Sabrina Ellis did something unusual: She squeezed the new smartphone. Then, without tapping a single button, she said the words “take a selfie,” held the phone up in the air, and snapped a group shot with the packed conference room.
The Pixel 2, which the company unveiled yesterday alongside a lineup of new gadgets, isn’t the first device designed to be squeezed. HTC tried the same thing with its U11 smartphone this winter, before Google bought the Taiwanese company’s mobile division. But the U11 with its “Edge Sense” feature was written off as a useless gimmick, while the Pixel 2’s slightly renamed “Active Edge” may actually be pretty useful.
The difference comes down to Google Assistant, the artificial intelligence assistant that comes baked into all of Google’s new hardware. Devoting the squeeze action to Google Assistant gives you an easy way to access one of the Pixel 2’s best features. Just give the phone a quick grip and you can do anything from snapping a photo to setting a calendar reminder.
In fairness, the HTC U11 did offer a similar feature. You could squeeze it to launch Google Assistant, but you could also configure Edge Sense to turn on the torch or open some other app instead, which made it easy to ignore what should have been a useful addition to the phone.
Google’s other big advantage with Active Edge is that it has total control over both the hardware and software. That means it can give Google Assistant access to the phone on a deeper level than the HTC U11 could, making the AI even more useful than it is on third-party devices. Active Edge is a perfect example of what that means for the Pixel 2.
Whether anyone actually squeezes their phones in real life remains to be seen. But if any phone can convince people to starting squeezing, it’s this one.