Google, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name? The logo? The search engine? The plethora of software (such as Android and Chrome) and services (such as Gmail)?
When we hear ‘Google’ we do not immediately think of the hardware side of Google, not sure even Google does. But the Mountain View, California-based tech giant is increasing its focus on hardware, and the winds of change could start blowing with the upcoming Pixel and Pixel XL phones.
Over the past few months, it has become clear that smartphone upgrades are now iterative in nature. No revolutions, no attempts to redefine the spec sheet and no reinventing the wheel, so to say. Well, your phone, perhaps, now has 4GB or 6GB of RAM, which is most likely at least as much, if not more, than what your laptop has. Therefore, the entire focus has shifted to making things incrementally better.
The Nexus smartphones have always been known as “Google phones”, because that is how Google intended Android as a smartphone operating system to be.
When the likes of Samsung, HTC, Sony and others started wrapping Android with customizations and extra features that divided opinion on genuine utility, Nexus stood out as the shining beacon of hope. That one day, all will be well. But while Nexus smartphones showcased the technical prowess all along, apart from the Nexus 6P, they always seemed to fall short on the hardware aspect. And that somewhat blew up the entire ‘reference device’ persona as well.
Except the 6P, Nexus phones have largely struggled to nail other really important parts of the smartphone experience — fundamental things like camera and battery life. Even the most visibly popular Nexus, 2013’s Nexus 5, sold because it was cheap. Without the Nexus badge or Google’s software, it was a boring plastic nothing with bad battery life and a temperamental camera.
The reason for that was simple—Google was still relying on someone else to make the Nexus hardware (Motorola, LG and Huawei, for example), and not entirely focusing on that aspect of the package. Perhaps just as importantly, Google never really learned how to play the carrier game in the U.S.
Unlike the iPhone where Apple has complete control over hardware and software, as well as the eventual integration between the two, Google allowed the phone makers a lot more wriggle room in terms of the specifications that Nexus phones packed in. Not that they were wrong, but it seemed that Samsung always had the march on these reference phones, when it came to sheer specs. What remained in the Nexus’ favour was a clean and unhindered Android experience, and for most users, that had more value than perhaps anything else.
But that is changing, irrespective of which smartphone manufacturer makes the next few iterations of the Pixel phones. The move to the Pixel brand suggests that Google, through its new hardware division, is serious about making a phone for the sake of making a phone, not just as a reference device for developers and a niche curiosity for enthusiasts.
Find some casual user in the developed part of the world, one who doesn’t care what OS their phone runs on, someone who doesn’t live and breathe the smartphone industry nonsense, and ask them, “Do you have an Android phone?” Most probably, the answer would be, “I have a Galaxy” or “I have an iPhone”
Find one in India, and I presume other developing parts of the world, and perhaps you will get a “Yes” or “No” because Android exists as a brand in these parts, local manufacturers use that brand to sell their cheap devices. It’s either Samsung Galaxy, or a cheap local or Chinese manufacturer. In places like the US however, its largely either Samsung or Apple. And Samsung isn’t really very proud of the fact that its smartphones are powered by Android. It’s never mentioned in their billion dollar marketing.
Appealing to the masses is what Google needs to do at its event. Even though the masses don’t watch these events, it does resonate in their minds through various media outlets.
The competition however shouldn’t be underestimated, both Apple and Samsung have full U.S. carrier coverage, almost unrivaled consumer mindshare and massive marketing budgets. Google can spend the money ofcourse but its effectively a newcomer. Brand Google is valuale, second only to Apple, but it needs to make peope believe in its hardware prowess. And yet, that might not be enough. Remeber the HTC 10? HTC is not a newcomer nor was the 10 a phone with flaws.
Forget the iPhone for a moment, Samung itself has made life hell for anyone making android smartphones anywhere in the premium segment. Be it matured markets like the USA &UK or the price sensitive markets like China and India, Samsung is the brand to beat for an Android phone maker.
There is an indication that Google wants to bring all the hardware, on which Google will focus even more, under one umbrella—Pixel phones, convertible computing devices and more.
Microsoft is doing it with the Surface product line-up, which may be complete with the Surface phone expected to arrive next year. When Microsoft does hardware events, we get crazy new concepts like the Surface and Surface Book. When Apple does hardware events, we get to watch Apple execs talk about how a non-existent button will give us “wonderful experiences.” Even something as simple as announcing that the new iPhone will be available in black, it is done as if Apple invented black. So when Google does its hardware focused October 4th event, I would expect something similar. Not as over the top but something similar.
Google, for all its tremendous strengths, is not yet known as a hardware company and it realizes the fact. The lack of a headphone jack in a ‘dull’ iPhone, and the Galaxy Note 7 debacle have ensured the best platform for Google’s new phones.
In Google’s ecosystem, whether Pixel will be as big as perhaps the iPhone brand, is where the keys to success will lie eventually. That’ll determine whether Pixel becomes just another phone for enthusiasts, or whether it marks the beginning of Google as a major brand in hardware.
What are your thoughts on the whole scenario? Do you want Google to succeed as a hardware company? Are you annoyed that the Nexus brand is going away? Sound off in the comments below.