So Google took the wraps off its new smartphone today… although it had nothing to add over and above what had been previously leaked or guessed at. HTC manufactured, Google designed with a bigger push around Google’s vision of a device as part of a world with ubiquitous search.
It’s an interesting play, because despite the addition of Google’s name and branding to the phone there isn’t much here over and above what has been offered under the Nexus brand. For all that Google put its stamp on the new device by making and validating all of the design decisions there’s nothing ground breaking about the hardware in this device.
In fact if anything it lags behind Samsung and Apple in key areas (missing OIS, no water resistance, wireless charging, stereo speakers) that might make it a tougher sell. Google claims the camera scores the highest DxOMark rating ever… let’s wait and see how that works in real life.
So if hardware isn’t a differentiator – and let’s be honest, for what is a natural extension of HTC’s currently unsuccessful line, it’s unlikely to be – does Google have enough of a software and services offering to differentiate it from other Android phones, never mind compete with Apple?
There are signs that there might be. Free, full resolution, cloud image storage is a benefit Google is touting, tied with the automatic offloading of files to the cloud to manage on board storage. This should ease the concerns of the absence of expandable memory.
Like the Nexus line, the Pixel will be kept up to date by Google directly, however in future updates will stream in the background before being installed, minimising downtime. The Pixel will benefit from a new launcher as well as packing Google Assistant rather than the previous Google Now or Now on Tap versions of its intelligent voice assistant.
Google is also proposing to fix its woeful support process – with 24/7 live access to support directly from the phone. It will be interesting to see whether this ends up being a worldwide service and if so how it compares to Apple’s class-leading customer engagement through the Apple Store.
Pricing the Pixel to compete directly with Apple and Samsung is the last major change in Google’s strategy. To justify this price, especially considering the missing hardware features, Google is going to have to deliver a user experience that blows both out of the water. Given how well and how long Apple has been doing this; and how successful Samsung has been in extending the Android experience in new and innovative ways; I’d be more than a little surprised if the Pixels have a major impact on the market.
That might not be the intention of these devices though. Rather they are the equivalent of Microsoft’s Surface, leading Android OEMs in directions that Google wants them to go.
And in that respect the Pixel isn’t very different to the Nexus devices that preceded it.