Last month, Google and Microsoft held their respective annual hardware events and unveiled their latest answers to Apple’s Airpods. Google showed off its second-generation Pixel Buds and Microsoft unveiled its new Surface Buds. The problem? Neither will be available for this holiday season.

Depending on who you ask, voice as an input for computing is neat or revolutionary. I want to try the latest Pixel Buds because Google Assistant is objectively the best assistant. (I’m not bothering with Amazon’s Echo Buds, because I don’t care for Alexa.) And the new Pixel Buds will offer hands-free access to Google Assistant, meaning I could just say “Hey Google” to start a podcast, send a text message, or translate a language. I also want to try the Surface Earbuds, but not because I care for Cortana. In fact, quite the opposite. The Surface Earbuds work with any virtual assistant, not just Cortana. It appears to be the perfect option for trying them all.

Unfortunately, Apple’s biggest competitors can’t get their act together. Microsoft and Google apparently suck so much at putting an assistant in my ear, I’ll have to wait till next year.

Spring 2020

Google said upfront that its new Pixel Buds won’t arrive until spring 2020. Many were disappointed given that the first-generation Pixel Buds, unveiled in October 2017, had many shortcomings.


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Microsoft planned to release the Surface Earbuds later this year. That was exciting because again, unlike the Surface Headphones, unveiled in October 2018, the Surface Earbuds weren’t all about Cortana. But this week, Panos Panay, head of engineering for all of Microsoft’s devices, dropped this bombshell:

Software tweaks, manufacturing problems, quality assurance, or all of the above? Your guess is as good as ours — Microsoft declined to go into detail when we asked. The only upside is that the Surface Earbuds will launch in more markets, if and when they do launch.

So both Google and Microsoft are missing the 2019 holiday season. If you want the best assistant or all the assistants, you’ll have to wait till next year. To add insult to injury, as I was writing this story last night, Bloomberg estimated that Apple Airpods shipments would hit 60 million in 2019. Google and Microsoft — there’s a number to think about this holiday season.

ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.

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