Pixel, Where Art Thou?

The phone that Google launched in early October 2016, some six months ago, and was widely seen as a rival to the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy is simply not available on the one place, where it should be in plentiful supply: the Google Store. To be perfectly exact, the Google Pixel and Pixel XL technically are available, it is just that you have to wait more than a month to actually get one. Six months after the launch of the phone it is abundantly clear that such depressingly long shipping times cannot be blamed on shortage of inventory or any other technicality, but the only logical conclusion left to make is that it is Google itself that is not willing to make the Pixel.

As with so many of Alphabet's moves, I'm left thinking, "Awesome, and what's the goal here?". The Pixel is clearly a high quality phone and a great device to showcase the latest Android OS, as the device will hopefully see consistent updates for a few years. If you're going to make the premier Android device, shouldn't the goal to be to sell as many as possible? 

The common explanation is that it is to be an example to other Android manufacturers as to the proper way to deliver a premier Android experience. Alphabet, and specifically Google, is an advertising company. They don't need to become a hardware company.

It's true, Google doesn't need to sell phones. But they do ship a variety of devices and decided to ship a new phone, so there has to be some goal for each device.

With something like Chromecast or Google Home, it seems clear the goal is to ensure that Google is not boxed out of a potential portal for search. Amazon's Alexa-enabled products already use Bing, as does Siri; and neither Apple TV or Amazon's Fire series provide any feasible way for Google to integrate themselves into the experience; so it makes absolute sense that Google would explore these markets.

With the Pixel, there are already premier Android devices. The biggest hardware advantage you can cite for the Pixel would probably be the camera. That said, many Android device makers have focused on camera experience, this is not some sudden wake-up call to the industry. The pixel is fast, but again, it's not some radically different experience.

The biggest values provided by the Pixel are in the software with advantages such as Google Assistant, free photos storage, and most importantly, largely unfettered access to updates.

The thing is, I'm not convinced that software advantages are recognized by other manufacturers. While new hardware options are quickly recognized and copied almost immediately, the same is often not true for software and services.

Individual companies have their own take on software and services and don't seem to readily change their outlook based on competitors efforts. I don't think there's any chance that other Android manufactures suddenly fight to alter their relationship with the carriers such that they also can support devices with timely Android updates.

Maybe if Google sold so many of these devices that it started effecting other companies bottom line, but if you're going to do that, you are going to have to work to sell a lot of devices.

Interestingly, one thing the Google Pixel does highlight is the superiority of iOS in specific areas such as memory management. As this real world speed test highlights, iOS is on a whole different level when it comes to intelligently managing application resources, and simply provides a vastly superior user experience with less memory. An iOS device with 3GB of ram can outperform Android with 6GB. 

When it's other manufactures needing vastly more RAM its easier to misidentifying the culprit as Apple's tight integration between hardware and software. When the Pixel suffers from the same plight, its clear that fundamentally iOS has been designed from the ground up to handle application resources in a more elegant way.