As seems to be the current modus operandi, another new flagship smartphone will arrive in a couple of weeks, fully leaked and completely exposed. In this case it is the HTC-made Google Pixel device that will allegedly replace the Nexus range.
The leaked spy shots are totally underwhelming. The Pixel will be a fairly close match to HTC’s current product line and, as a result or by design, will visually twin the iPhone 6 / 6S / 7. I’m not going to get into the who copied who argument here, but I can’t help but feel that HTC is flogging a dead horse here, by sheer volume of sales Apple has taken ownership of that design. If this is a new flagship device for Google I would have thought something a little different might have been in order.
Of course looking underwhelming doesn’t mean the device is going to be underwhelming. Yet I’m looking at the Pixel and wondering what it is Google is trying to do here. The Chromebook Pixel was a high end device at a time when other Chromebooks were cheap (and in a lot of cases quite nasty too). It was a statement device which said that Chromebooks can be this too.
Is there a need for this in the Android market? I would say not. In fact there are too many OEMs fighting for too few premium device sales. And let’s be honest does Google really need to position itself to compete with partners that are already struggling to make a profit?
The rumours suggest that the Pixel will be the most expensive Google phone yet. Given that the last round of Nexus devices weren’t bargain basement devices this would suggest that Google doesn’t intend to battle the Samsungs and Sonys of this world.
It wants a slice of Apple. And to do this the Pixel has to go beyond the Nexus and delight customers for more than just being stock Android. Getting speedy updates to the Android platform was about the only reason to buy a Nexus last time out. In return customers were forced to give up all of the tweeks, advances and niceties that the competition had brought to the market.
The Pixel needs to be more than just a HTC built Nexus, it needs to have the clever cameras, the additional features, the OEM skins that persuade customers to buy a hundred times as many premium Samsung phones as they did Nexus devices. And it need to do this without dropping any of the advantages of the Nexus line.
Already the Pixel appears to be lagging behind, missing the dual-camera setup of the iPhone 7 Plus that has been making the headlines and appears to be the only thing driving iPhone 7 sales right now. That’s intensely ironic given HTC’s past history with multiple camera setups, without forgetting that last year’s Nexus OEM, Huawei has integrated dual cameras into its current range with some success.
Without this headline feature Google is going to have to have something clever hidden up its sleeve to draw the media attention away from the iPhone 7. Could that be new software or perhaps a Google skin for Android to create a more consistent Google experience?
This isn’t a battle for sales volume (Android has already won that) or even for profits (Apple has won that) it’s about stealing mindshare from Apple, both in the media and with customers. Because as long as the media is on Apple’s side (and where it matters, there’s no question that this is the case) Google is at risk from Apple’s slow but steady encroachment into its markets.
The conversation about music streaming is illuminating here. The battle between Spotify and Apple Music has been intensely played out across the technology pages. When was the last time anyone mentions Google Play Music or YouTube Red.
I believe that’s the battle Google is seeking to win here. And if Google wins so does Android. And if Android wins then Android OEMs might just find business a little easier in future.