The missing piece of Google’s Pixel puzzle


Alright, stop me if you’ve heard this before: Google is about to get serious about hardware.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m going to pause for a second while you calm down.

Listen, I’m a big fan of what Google is trying to do with its Pixel products. If you’ve read my ramblings for a long time (or seen the multicolored NSFW “P” logo tattoos on various parts of me), you know how I feel about the Pixel’s place in the Android ecosystem and the essential role it plays. (I joke about tattoos, by the way.) (For now.)

But the truth is, we’ve been hearing the line “Google is about to get serious about hardware” for a long time – over and over and over again. At some point, you have to ask yourself: “Uh, gang? When does it really start?!”

Today is that day. I ask, publicly, here and now. But I am also with caution expressing optimism that the answer is a resounding: “Right now – for real this time.”

All hot air aside, there’s only one way hope can happen. And that would require Google to overcome a major challenge that the company hasn’t yet shown any sign of being ready for.

Let me explain to you.

Pixel perspective

First, a bit of background needed to set the scene here: it’s important to note that Google’s hardware manufacturing ambitions technically date back to pre-Pixel times. In addition to its (mostly) fan-focused Nexus phones, Google has been making its own Chromebook Pixel products since 2015. It’s been making a variety of Chromecast-branded streaming doohickeys since 2013. And there was that, uh, extraordinarily short-lived Nexus Q…incident around 2012 (but we won’t talk about it).

It was when El Googster switched to the Pixel phone plan that things really started. It was then that the material became minus one hobby and more than one Business. And not only that, we were assured, but it also marked the start of the hardware’s integration into Google’s broader business. plan for the future of the company.

“Fundamentally, we think a lot of the innovation that we want to do ends up requiring end-to-end user experience control,” Rick Osterloh, then-new Google hardware chief, told The Verge in 2016, around the launch of the first generation Pixel phone model.

And then there is this oft-quoted excerpt from that same article:

Osterloh knows that “we’re definitely not going to get huge volumes out of this product. This is the very first run for us.” The measure of Google’s success for the Pixel won’t be whether it gains significant market share, but whether it can garner customer satisfaction and form retail and carrier partnerships that Google can leverage to coming years.

OK. Costs. 2016 was therefore the beginning. What about 2017?

That’s when Google hardware was “no longer a hobby”, because the next Article proclaimed by Osterloh-interview to The Verge.


Last year was a coming out party for Google hardware. This year is something different. It’s a statement that Google is very serious about turning hardware into a true full-scale business – but maybe not this year.

I got you. Oh and:

While Osterloh expects the Pixel to “become a large and meaningful business for the company over time”, for now its benchmark is not sales, but “consumer satisfaction and customer satisfaction.” ‘user experience’. So I ask: What about in five years? “We don’t want it to be a niche,” says Osterloh. “We hope to sell products in large volumes in five years.”

In five years. That was 2017. And now it’s 2022. Here we are.

Pixel potential

As we approach half a decade of Google’s last “getting serious” moment, it seems safe to say that Pixel adoption isn’t where Google had hoped it would be at this point. Most market share analyzes show that Google has such a small share of the US mobile market that it rarely warrants even a presence on an official-looking line chart. “Percentages below single digits” would be the most polite way to sum up the status of the brand so far.

The problem is certainly not the Pixel product or its advantages over other Android options, especially from a business perspective. Pixel phones are the only Android devices that receive reliable and timely OS and security updates, even when they’re a year or two old, without any annoying asterisks – you know, pesky little things such as privacy policies that allow the device manufacturer to collect and sell your personal data.

On a more tangible level, the Pixel range has some hugely useful features that no one else can match – things like Google’s AI-powered Hold-For-You phone system, Maze-exclusive navigation genius Pixel phone and spam. -discontinued Pixel call filtering and filtering technology. And all of this is just the beginning.

So what gives? Well, it’s almost ridiculously simple: average schmoes need to know all of this. Humans who buy phones and the clearly non-human creatures who run corporate IT departments need to know that even Pixel products to existfirst and foremost – and then they need to understand why they are worth considering over the better known Android phone options.

So far, Google has done a pretty poor job of making this happen. My longtime exercise is to take a Pixel-exclusive feature and imagine if Apple had its dirty virtual paws on that very thing. Imagine how Apple would market it if the next iPhone had AI-enabled call screening, effective robo-blocking technology, or a futuristic restraint system. They would all be innovative, revolutionary, magical and revolutionary game changers, garsh dern it it! These would be life-changing revelations available “only on the iPhone” (because when someone pretentiously avoids using articles when referring to their products, you know they must matter).

Plain and simple, we would never hear the end of it. And with Google? Google has these goods this minute. How many non-tech-obsessed people do you know who is aware of any of them?

Marketing has never been Google’s strength, to put it mildly. But now, as we approach that “high volume” goal post five years later, we can only hope that someone in the business realizes that great experiences alone aren’t enough to engage the masses in what you do.

You also need to make sure they know about it. That’s the real challenge Google faces if it wants to make the Pixel brand matter – and if it wants to convince us that it’s really, really ready to take the hardware seriously.

Don’t let yourself miss an ounce of Pixel magic. Sign up for my free online course Pixel Academy to discover tons of hidden features for your favorite Pixel phone.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.


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