Next time you buy a new smartphone the decision you make might well be influenced by Google’s decision to launch the Pixel, whichever smartphone you’re currently using. The Pixel splits the Android platform into two tiers and Google is the only company currently allowed into tier one.
Pixel only features mean that were you to consider a new Android smartphone from Samsung, Huawei or Sony; you’d be missing out on key capabilities that Google is hanging onto for itself. For now those missing features are a small part of the Android feature set, but this looks like a trend that will continue as Google matures its hardware platform and integrates software that it doesn’t want to make available to partners.
For Samsung this is probably least challenging. It has its own voice assistant – S-Voice – which does a better job than Google’s in some areas. It also has a strategic partnership with Microsoft that it can leverage, although that would probably be at the cost of damaging its relationship with Google further.
If Android is going to be complex and even more fragmented is it time to consider a move to Apple? A small but significant percentage of Android users make this jump every year, but could the damage to the Android platform encourage more to move? After all, if you’re going to be in a walled garden many would choose Apple’s over Google’s, given the latter promises to feed everything it knows about you into its machine learning system in order to better sell you to its customers.
For Microsoft there’s more than a hint of lost opportunity here. Being able to offer all of the features that Google has bagged for the Pixel on every single Lumia smartphone might just have been a lever to get more buyers to switch. Instead it will need to focus its energies on partnerships with Android OEMs in order to substitute Microsoft services for Google’s.
Whilst Google will probably sell more Pixels than it did Nexus phones, I believe that Apple is actually the big winner here. The Pixel may well be the best of Android, but it also reflects that the best of Android might not be as good as the best of Apple.
At a time when Android current market leader is going through a painful self-immolation, courtesy of the Note 7, this can only further boost Apple and the iPhone, by making it the only safe choice for anyone looking to buy an iPhone today.