The Pixel and Pixel XL are Google’s biggest direct challenge to the iPhone in years. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at them.
There’s plenty of solid, all-around excellent Android phones with no name recognition out there. The Honor 8, OnePlus 3 and LG V20 are probably 99% as good as Google’s new Pixel phones. They all have fast processors, pretty screens, excellent cameras and a pleasing industrial design. But apparently, because Google packed its phone full of fancy software, we’re gonna buy it over the much cheaper alternatives. Okaaay.
For the record, there is nothing really bad about the Pixel or the Pixel XL. Slap down $700 or so, and I’m sure you will get a phone that you will be very happy with. Sadly, in 2016, that’s not enough.
The Galaxy S7 Edge and iPhone 7, both of which cost nearly exactly the same as the Pixel, have more tricks than a well-trained border collie. They’re both waterproof, for a start; they have cameras that I’m guessing will be just as good if not better in the real world; and more importantly, they come from companies that have great brand recognition for making fantastic smartphones.
Sure, everyone knows of Google, but only for its software. It also doesn’t help that the Pixel is a Verizon exclusive, so that three-quarters of the physical retail stores where people tend to buy their phones won’t have any Pixel devices.
But more than any of that, the Pixel is missing a whoa trick. The iPhone doesn’t need a trick, because so many people already know and love it. The same is partly true for Samsung, but it has stuff like iris scanners and curved displays anyway.
In essence, to buy the Pixel, you have to go online, ignore the phones with similar specs that cost $250 less, browse to Google’s not-very-well-known online store, and choose to buy a Pixel. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that isn’t how many people go about buying a new smartphone.
For wow factor, Google is relying on its software smarts. That’s fair enough, because by all accounts, Google Assistant is creepily good and actually quite useful.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to sell people on a smartphone with software tricks. Google doesn’t seem to understand that most people don’t appreciate or care about the nuances of artificial intelligence. It put the tech media to sleep when it tried to explain its AI; how do you think the complexities of deep learning are going to come over in a TV spot?
Not to mention, Google Assistant is coming (in one way or another) to other Android and iOS devices. Sure, it might be more convenient on Google’s own Pixel hardware, but you’re really not going to sell anyone on a $650 phone because it’s marginally more convenient to use a digital assistant.
The Pixel looks like a cool phone with some great features. I just don’t see who Google is going to sell it to. The Nexus 4 was a cult classic because it was the best phone for nerds who like buying unlocked handsets off the internet for cheap.
But the Pixel isn’t cheap. It’s not trying to compete against Huawei and OnePlus, it’s trying to compete against Samsung and Apple. But it doesn’t have a price advantage, it’s only being sold by one carrier, and the only unique feature it has is software that’s going to be on other Android phones in a matter of months.
Google spent a lot of its keynote today taking digs at Apple for its weird naming and lack of headphone jacks. But really, Google is the one that ripped off Apple today. Standing up on stage and announcing the Pixel as a real milestone? That takes courage.