They will work with other phones, but the translation feature won't
Google explained its rationale for limiting access to the feature
Google Pixel Buds' real-time translation feature, unveiled alongside the wireless headphones at Google's hardware event on Wednesday, will be exclusive to Pixel smartphones. This bit of news was revealed by Google to Gadgets 360 in an interaction after the event. The company says that since it won't be able to control firmware updates on third-party devices, an update may break the feature or stop it from functioning as intended, something it doesn't want.
To recall, Google introduced real-time multi-lingual translation as one of the highlight features of the Pixel Buds wireless headphones. How do you use it? All you need to do is hold the right earbud, and say "Help me speak [name of language]".
Google explains, "Say you're in Little Italy, and you want to order your pasta like a pro. All you have to do is hold down on the right earbud and say, 'Help me speak Italian.' As you talk, your Pixel phone's speaker will play the translation in Italian out loud. When the waiter responds in Italian, you'll hear the translation through your Pixel Buds." The feature is said to work in 40 languages.
Explaining why the real-time translation feature for Pixel Buds would be exclusive to Pixel smartphones, Adam Champy, Product Manager, Google Pixel Buds told Gadgets 360, "When you look at the Pixel device and you look at Bluetooth audio routing, we have to be able to guarantee that we know exactly where to play each audio snippet. We get a snippet from the user, we get one from the person being translated and we need to know where to route it. Even coming down to the names of what those are called in the routing, within the phone, matters. So, being able to do the QA and bespoke choice of 'play this audio out this channel', and if that phone or iPhone has a different way of describing it, and that way could change over device updates or could change within model in the same SKU, cause sometimes they have different chipsets and the consumer doesn't know that; it creates an experience that's up to a quality bar that we would not like."
Or, in other words, if things aren't working precisely as Google dictates, both audio snippets may come from the same channel or no sound comes through at all.
We discussed the impact of Google Pixel 2 and its big hardware ecosystem India on our weekly technology podcast Orbital, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS or just listen to this episode by hitting the play button below.