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?