Over the past few days and weeks we have had a run of leaks and rumours about Google’s upcoming hardware, specifically we’re discussing their phones. We understand that between COVID-19 and social unrest that Google may be behind in announcing some of their devices, but the decisions that influenced them were made long ago.
Today however we want to focus on the top tier, the flagship device, and for Google that’s the Pixel. When the original Pixel and Pixel XL released it marked a real line in the sand. It was a coherent piece of hardware, an elegant device with pure Android, good specs and the camera redefined smartphone photography going forward.
Jump back to the 2019 release of the Pixel 4, and we see the Pixel line struggling. On the world stage it had lost it’s photography edge as companies like Samsung, Huawei and Apple had caught up, and perhaps left Google behind. So without a runaway feature that could be held above all else, the Pixel needs to start competing on every element of their devices.
We know that there can be a huge difference between ‘specs’ and performance. I have used devices with very high ‘specs’ that just didn’t perform well. I have also used devices with lower specs that have been well optimised and gave great performance. So we understand that specs do not necessarily translate into performance.
That said there is a certain cache involved with having the best something. I’m sure that the Snapdragon 765G is a fantastic SOC, combining 5G, AI co-processors and high performing cores. I’m also sure that a well developed device using that SOC can be tuned for excellent performance.
Rumours suggest that both the Pixel 5 and the newly rumoured Pixel 4a 5G will both use this processor. So the question becomes, what makes the Pixel 5 performance better? Perhaps that’s the wrong question. Perhaps both the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G will perform as well as any other device?
However unfair it may be the question for the premium Pixel 5 will always be why didn’t they use something like the Snapdragon 865+. Google will have to deliver outstanding performance to deflect this criticism. In a world where benchmark scores and reviewer scorn greatly influence perceptions of a product using less than the best in your flagship device opens you up to criticism.
Within the flagship space we have seen the emergence of a new category, the ultra premium device, where OEMs throw ludicrous things into a beautify shell and then charge close to or over $2000 for it. The mere presence of these clearly over-priced objects of capitalistic greed do skew the market and perceptions within it.
This is the landscape that Google is bringing the Pixel 5 into. Google has no ‘ultra premium’ device, and we’d argue that’s a good thing from both a cost and a waste perspective. However using a Snapdragon 700 series processor is going to expose Google to criticism about not making the Pixel 5 the best it could be, and now it seems that a mid tier Pixel 4a 5G will use the same processor it will make the market delineation between the two very difficult.
The differentiation between the Pixel and Pixel “a” lines should not be a nicer case and an extra camera, although a better multi camera strategy on the Pixel is a must. There is an amount of luxury and fashion in the premium phone market, a desirability, and this is a part of the market Google has to be present in. They need to make their mark and say this is what a high end Android phone should be.
To be clear we are not advocating for Google to simply make a very expensive device. Far from it, we applaud the move to make devices more affordable. What Google needs to do is make a premium device to be present at that end of the market. Google has the resources to out OnePlus OnePlus and release a premium device at an affordable price, just like the original OnePlus did before they slowly upped their prices.
Google is Android, but that might not always be the case. Unless they want to abandon the hardware direction of their own platform to the market then they need to start playing a hard game. Becoming a driving force in Android hardware doesn’t necessarily mean dominating the market share.
However if Google does not insert itself into the full Android hardware market it could lose control of the direction of the hardware landscape and after that what else may they lose control over? We’re not saying Google has to kill Samsung who really are the major player in western Android premium devices.
They do need to be present however and having their guiding hand on the ecosystem.