So the Google phones for 2016 have launched – the 5” Pixel and the 5.5” Pixel XL, so far so good. They’re getting great reviews generally speaking, they’re even impressing some of the hardest-to-please reviewers. I think we’d all be disappointed if a phone retailing for over $1400 turned out to be generally not impressive, but for that price, it had better be able to cook a lamb roast and fetch me a coffee in the morning, right?
The cost aside, what a lot of users and reviewers alike seem to be doing at the moment is focusing on the phones themselves, and not really turning their minds to how important the Pixel phones are to Android and Google more generally.
The evolution of the Nexus phone line was without a doubt the starting point for where we are today. They were a “stock” Android experience and didn’t have the frills and invasive software that many of the manufacturers include on their devices such as Sense on the HTC flagship devices, Touchwiz on Samsung and Emotion UI on Huawei to name only a few.
Unlike iPhone, which has both its software and hardware controlled by just one entity, Android doesn’t quite work that way; Android is a platform which manufacturers can adopt and modify, resulting in many different hardware manufacturers all with phones that run (or are based on) Android. The danger for Google in this, though, is that their name gets lost amongst the others; many average users don’t identify their phone as an Android, they say “I’ve got a Samsung” or somewhat less frequently “I’ve got the Nexus 6P”.
This is fine, in the sense that Android is in the hands of millions of smartphone users around the world. It’s good for Android. It’s less good for Google which has — until now — largely taken a backseat to the branding efforts and rewards reaped by hardware manufacturers. When you look at the fancy launch events for premium Android phones, Android itself rates barely a mention, and Google is often not mentioned at all.
Enter the Pixel phone
The Pixel line of Android phones represent the most important devices that Google have released. Sure, Google have released other products before, and they’ve even (somewhat) co-branded the previous Nexus devices, but it isn’t the same. Excepting Chromecast devices, virtually every product that’s come before the Pixel line has been something else first, and Google second.
With the Pixel line, these are not Android phones. They are Google phones, that run Android.
This time around rather that giving the OEM a guiding hand with design, Google have BEEN the designers and HTC have delivered what Google asked for. While the manufacturing arm isn’t directly a part of Google (yet…) this brings the Pixel phone into the same arena as Apple’s iPhone (recently iPhones) where the phone has been designed with the best user experience for the OS kept at the forefront of thought during design and it shows, to be direct about it.
This is the first time Google have directly taken on Apple with hardware design as well as the operating system. The comparison of the devices is remarkable:
|Google Pixel XL||Apple iPhone 7 Plus||Google Pixel||Apple iPhone 7|
|Release date||October 2016||September 2016||October 2016||September 2016|
|Resolution||2,560 x 1,440||1,920 x 1,080||1,920 x 1,080||1,334 x 750|
|Chipset||Snapdragon 821||A10 Fusion Chip||Snapdragon 821||A10 Fusion Chip|
|Core config||2.15GHz x 2 + 1.6GHz x 2||Quad Core 2.33GHz||2.15GHz x 2 + 1.6GHz x 2||Quad Core|
|Battery||3,450 mAh||2,900 mAh||2,770 mAh||1,960 mAh|
|Connector||USB C||Lightning||USB C||Lightning|
|WIFI standards||802.11 a/b/g/n||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac||802.11 a/b/g/n||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|Android OS||Android 7.1||iOS 10||Android 7.1||iOS 10|
|Dimensions||154.72x75.74x 7.31(Bottom) 8.58(Top) mm||158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm||143.84x69.54x 7.31(Bottom) 8.58(Top) mm||138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm|
When you look at the Pixel phones in this context, it starts to become clearer why the Pixel phone is getting so much attention even with the $1419 price tag for the XL. The war is on and the battle is hot.
Not only is it the hardware that Google have pushed forward to compete with Apple and the iPhone but they’re now pushing ahead with advertising in a more active way than previously with the Nexus phones. There was the normal, organic hype around the new Google device that is created by those who are faithful to the Android brand and sites like ours. What was new and very pleasing to see with the Pixel launch is the active generation by Google through paid advertising and social media.
The “made by Google” event was the start of what has been the most concentrated advertising campaign drive by Google on their mobile devices. They have released multiple adverts released for TV (available for viewing on YouTube) as well as radio advertising to ensure that the market placement of the Pixel devices is more mainstream and less “that’s for geeks” thank was often recognised as the case with Nexus devices.
Pushing hard into the market within Australia will always require a carrier partnership, a premium phone needs to be partnered with a premium carrier and the leader of the pack in Australia is Telstra. This is clearly a starting point for the Pixel devices but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see other carriers; namely Vodafone and/or Optus making a play for them next time around if they hold a high level of customer satisfaction and perhaps more importantly (for the carriers at least) put in a strong sales showing.
How have they gone so far?
While we’re aware that iPhones usually sell out across the board on the first day of retail availability, it’s a bit much to expect Google’s Pixels to do the same, especially when they don’t have that established history in the market. However, we understand from a number of sources within Telstra’s retail network and within JB Hi-Fi that a number of stores sold out of Pixel handsets on the first day, and re-supplied stock has moved steadily as well. This does vary somewhat by neighbourhood; the significant price of these phones, combined with the lack of established market history, does mean that those with lesser disposable income are holding back from buying … at least, just for now.
At the end of the day, there will always be loyal fans of both operating systems, both sides have their advantages. The Pixel devices are the latest and greatest, running the latest and most user friendly version of Android. It’s the first real market drive from Google to put their vision of an Android phone to market which brings them alongside Apple in the market where they control not only the OS but the hardware as well. In my short time with the Pixel XL to date I honestly believe that despite the price tag that the Pixel phones have the potential to be among, if not THE best smartphones of 2016 which is why I believe that the Pixels are far more important than people have realised yet.