Pixel and Pixel XL, the made by Google phones, are here with a price tag and specifications ready to challenge the Apple iPhone 7. With the new Pixel phones, Google is bidding goodbye to the Nexus series, and instead focusing on the premium segment, one where Apple has dominated for years. And like Apple, Google too will retain top to bottom control of the hardware and software on Pixel phones.
These ones are not just about pure Android or getting the latest update like say the Nexus was in the eyes of many; the Pixel phones will get exclusive features that you might not get on the Nexus or any other Android phone for that matter.
Google appears to have a simple approach to this new hardware foray. It now views itself as a hardware player building on its open-source Android platform; just like Samsung or a Xiaomi or Lenovo do with their phones. Nexus was about collaborating and showcasing the power of Android. Pixel is about creating a premium hardware product, one that shows the power of Google.
The Pixel phones are not mid-range like Nexus, and there’s a reason for that. According to Google’s Chrome VP Dave Burke, “Android ecosystem doesn’t really need a Nexus programme anymore,” especially since the world has seen the rise of other mid-range phones like OnePlus, Xiaomi which can highlight everything that Android does well.
Pixel phones will be Google’s challenger to Apple, and the search giant intends to use its prowess in machine learning and machine intelligence to make these stand out. Based on Google’s presentation, one could see the focus was on software and not specifications as such, though these phones come with top-of-the-line specs too.
For starters, Pixel devices are the first to run the Google Assistant and currently it looks like Assistant will be Google Pixel exclusive, kind of like how Siri is to the iPhone. So don’t expect the future Galaxy S8 to come with the Google Assistant just yet. Google Assistant is building on the search giant’s knowledge graph and relies on machine learning to give a user exactly what they need. Just like in the Allo app, Google Assistant will keep a track of your appointments, give you news updates, answer your questions, etc. But there’s no third-party app support yet like Apple has done with Siri. However, Google is working on that as well.
It looks like Google also plans to keep some other features exclusive to Pixel. For starters, the ability to transfer data (iMessage included) from any Android or iOS device to the new Pixel phones. The new Pixel launcher which has a redesigned app layout and style is exclusive to the two phones for now. These devices are also Daydream VR ready and the first one yet, another area where Google plans to play big.
And yes, there was another aspect where Google is touting the Pixel phones as the best: the camera. For long the Apple iPhone camera has been one of the best in the business, the 8MP camera on the iPhone 6 Plus is still better than many others on so-called mid-range flagships. With the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple takes it up a notch with a new Bokeh mode and optical zoom included. Now with the Pixel, Google claims its cameras are better than that or any other smartphone ever; better than the S7, S7 edge, the HTC 10, etc.
Premium smartphones have always had camera as a differentiating factor. This is a hardware feature that is rarely done well at the mid-range level, despite the megapixel touting by various players. And Google is pitching the Pixel as one of the best, which is not surprising. A premium phone with a good camera isn’t enough in today’s world.
The Pixel launch takes place at an interesting time. Samsung’s latest flagship the Note 7 has blown up on the Korean giant’s face, literally in some cases. The iPhone 7 is expected to see a lukewarm response at best, and not generate crazy sales numbers like a new iPhone did in the past. Also the smartphone market in general is heading towards a negative trend, where users aren’t upgrading every year. In the midst of all this, Pixel comes to play in the premium segment which is a risky move. And Google says it is entering the hardware zone for a long run with the Pixel phones.
Clearly Google wants to show the world it can build great smartphone hardware too and charge a premium for it. With Pixel there’s no other OEM branding, the after sales support is all Google, the software is all Google and some of it is exclusive to Pixel. Sounds exactly how Apple does it with the iPhone. Now whether that translates into a selling point is worth watching.