With its Pixel Smartphones, Google is Finally Taking Control of the Android Chaos

Cracking the whip



The day came and went. The October 4th event that had been hyped through and through and every shred of publicity in the run up to the event milked dry did indeed deliver. More on that in a moment. For now, the focus is on one thing and one thing alone: the new Google phones.

The Pixel brand is not new. It’s been around for the last 3 years on 3 different devices. There was the first generation Chromebook Pixel and its successor and last year’s poorly-received Pixel C tablet. So Google is not taking an unbeaten path by introducing a range of smartphones under this brand. Nor is it entering into unchartered territory by concentrating its efforts on hardware, smartphones no less. It has previously partnered with various companies like HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola (which it once owned) and Huawei to make the devices which the Pixel lineup of smartphones is replacing, the beloved Nexus. So it is pretty much at home.

What’s different this time around? Everything. Like the other Pixel devices, the Pixel smartphones are pretty much Google’s devices through and through and they are not meant to be cheap. Yes it did contract HTC to manufacture them but that’s just that. Google handled every other minute thing only to outsource manufacturing to a company it has worked with in the past, a company who’s reputation for upholding the highest standards of design and quality has never been in doubt and which, definitely, needs the dollars Google is willing to throw its way as it has been in quite a bit of trouble financial-wise these last few years.

However, there’s a much bigger picture than just existence for the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones that Google paraded to the world yesterday in San Francisco. While the Nexus devices were pretty much a glorified sideshow that saw Google promote its latest software efforts while letting a select hardware partner announce its arrival on the big global smartphone stage, the Pixel smartphones are quite the opposite. They are not sideshows. They are the main event. This is why their pre-production models smashed all the DxOMark ratings blowing past devices with really good cameras like the iPhone 7 from Apple and the Galaxy S7 from Samsung.

By building its own phones and going all out to offer them competitively in the market through partnerships with select carriers thus guaranteeing a much wider customer base than what a listing on Google Play would bring, Google is in effect taking charge of Android, something it should’ve done long ago, in my opinion.

‘Made by Google’ reminds everyone that every other Android phone is made by someone else. Just knowing what that means is good for everyone.

There’s some good and some bad in such a move. The good is that the company is able to guarantee the sort of hardware-software integration that we’ve only been able to see from rival Apple’s iPhones. At yesterday’s event, Google said that the Pixel phones will receive automatic updates that even install in the background without bothering the user. Something like how Windows 10 just goes ahead and downloads the latest updates for you and schedules a time when it will restart your PC to install them. In the case of the Pixel devices, users will be informed when installation is about to happen so that they can restart their devices. How cool is that?

You only need to remember that the single most widely-used version of Android is from 3 years ago to appreciate what Google brings to the table. Change won’t happen overnight but it will nudge some of Google’s hardware partners from their comfy beds where they have been sleeping for 8 years now. If they are to release hardware that competes at the Pixel’s level, they’ll need something more than fancy geeky spec sheets to entice people to buy their devices. It’s no use getting a device with more RAM than any other in the market, more processor cores than slices of a typical medium pizza and more pixels on the display than the human eye needs only for the device to never be looked at again by its maker when it comes to fixing bugs and providing access to newer Android builds. Why would anyone do that to themselves when they can get a Google phone and not have to worry about things they should not be worrying about anyway?

The negative is that by being aggressive with its own hardware efforts, Google may end up alienating its many hardware partners who have worked tirelessly over the years and whom it has to thank for Android’s popularity. There were murmurs about their relationship with Google when Google acquired Motorola and the company had to go to great lengths to address such concerns and make sure valued partners like Samsung wouldn’t leave the platform. The Pixel phones bring back that whole debate and it will be interesting to see how Google skirts the issue this time around.

I may not be getting them but I am happy they (the Pixel phones) exist because it is about time someone actually showed the world how to do Android and do it well without compromises (which is what we got as some Nexus smartphones were limited by their maker’s hardware vision). And who can do that better than Google?


  1. By building its own phones and going all out to offer them competitively in the market through partnerships with select carriers thus guaranteeing a much wider customer base than what a listing on Google Play would bring, Google is in effect taking charge of Android, something it should’ve done long ago, in my opinion.

    That’s an opinion possibly shared by countless other Android/tech enthusiasts. It also could mean possibly their own undoing, had they done that long ago.

    Let’s try this path: Apple created the iPhone and iOS, and took a huge (and extremely successful stride into the kind of mobile world we live in with heavy emphasis on apps and appstores. They made a huge fuss and that worked for them. Soon afterwards, titans such as Moto, Nokia, Samsung and LG started working on iPhone killers.

    Google, on the other hand, started developing Android and launched the first Android phone via a HTC offering. Android got rave reviews and was touted for its unrivaled flexibility. Android’s freedom to be messed with (for free) is what made it carry the day. Soon, it became apparent that OEMs loved to spare some cash when it came to OS R&D, with everyone throwing in their hat in the Android ring.

    Prior to the iOS boom, Symbian was pretty much locked inside Nokia’s stable. With this newcomer, Nokia tried the Google way and made Symbian open-source. Moto, Sony Ericsson and LG tried the Symbian OS way, with Samsung further dabbling their feet in their own tiny Bada OS pool, without really coming close to what Apple offered.

    Symbian had some setbacks that ended up killing it. It was owned and developed by an OEM (Nokia), and that meant a sense of mistrust was rife within other participating OEMs. Secondly, it is probable that Nokia felt bullish about their works – they were, after all, the world’s largest phone and smartphone makers. They probably would work at their own pace. You know what they say about pride and falls…

    Microsoft was not one to be left behind in the smartphone wars, ditching their Windows Mobile and going for a new lighter Windows Phone 7, with a new kernel to boot with. There were plenty of OEMs working with Mircrosoft, big wigs like LG, Palm and Samsung.

    But the deal with collapsing Nokia was what possibly killed their morale. Nokia-Microsoft partnership spared Nokia a $25 per phone licensing fee. Remember, Android has been free all this time. Why pay if you can get something else for free? Also, Nokia was already being given preferential treatment over other OEMs, by being allowed to have their own special category in the Store. Little wonder that nearly the entire Windows Phone line up and market share is composed of Lumias.

    Having realized their undoing Microsoft has started thinking like Google: stop making your own hardware and let others do it. With Windows 10 Mobile, there are 3 Lumias, and dozens of other big and small time OEM like Acer and HP. Rumours of a Surface Phone run amok, but remain just that – rumours.

    Preferential treatment is probably why Google – with their deep pockets, bought Motorola for $12bn and sold the phone making business in Motorola to another phone maker Lenovo for $2bn – are late to the hardware making party. And they are probably doing it now because it the right time. Android can shine, but that shine fades thanks to sloppy OEM partners who fail to keep up with the updates.

    Android is the only OS whose updates largely come by way of new devices. iOS and W10M are great at being prompt with updates, that’s because the software company is in command with the floating hardware out there. Google has been, through their very limited in stock Nexus by Google+HTC+Samsung+Huawei+Asus+LG program. It is possible that they now want to go large scale and wearing one logo, the G, despite the hardware assembler.

      • My suspicion is Android OEMs are now being forced to tow the line. For far too long have they been lazy at pushing updates and allowing security threats go unchecked. Android has the highest malware attacks, some even sneaking in through the Play Store.

        I, for one, vowed never ever ever to purchase Samsung Android devices, after my Note 10.1 2014 edition was left to deal with the Android Jelly Bean that it shipped with. I was intensely incensed. Do you know how much one cost back then, only for it to be neglected?

        My subsequent Android devices have been bought after coming to peace with the fact that updates are a no-no. I bought (and still happily rock) a Nokia X2 – nothing to date beats their Fastlane implementation, and because I wanted an Android Nokia. I was already prepared to live without subsequent updates because face it – it was a trippy Nokia-Microsoft-Android love triangle. No love for the X, right?

        The second Android, my secondary phone is a Xiaomi Mi 4C – simply because it was a bargain Snapdragon 808 phone with fantastic reviews. Yes, it does live to its expectation. Being untested waters, the Android security patches that come are a welcome surprise.

        My primary driver is a 2014 Lumia 730 that is being powered by – you guessed it – the latest Windows 10 Mobile. It is my primary because it simply feels like the newest, thanks to the OS updates. The Mi wipes the floor with the Lumia performance-wise, and that’s why I play the heavy stuff on it. Heavy gaming aside, the Lumia is just a happier phone because it simply feels unforgotten.

        Then add on Cortana’s integration with both my phone and laptop and boom – that’s all that matters to me.

  2. […] Look at Google’s latest device, the Pixel. Its main selling point is the software (Google Assistant), Nokia have been rumoured to be working on their own digital assistant, HTC have launched the HTC U series, which features a lot of AI and we have the Huawei Mate 9 which is AI powered to ensure that it never slows down by learning how you use your smartphone. So, we have established that software is the next big thing and the evidence to prove this is overwhelming. Manufacturers are slowly moving from telling us how great a device is by mentioning specs that most consmers don’t care about and they are now focusing on making the software experience worthwhile. It will definetely not happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow but I am seeing a future where your smartphone will be able to do things without you touching it. As exciting as that is, it is also scary. If smartphones can think for themselves, decide when you need to wake up earlier than usual or when you need to sleep in, send those lovey dovey texts to your girlfriend, wish your mother a happy birthday and start your car before you even get inside it, then the robot revolution is closer than we think. […]

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