October 2014: Google announces its new smartphones via a blogpost.
September 2015: A small room in Google’s offices in central London is occupied by no less than 20 tech journalists. We’re shuffled in, sat down and handed a stapled together dossier – key specs and feature overviews – of everything Google is launching that day before the official announcement.
The presenter – a mid-level executive – rushes through the new phones and quickly moves on to the more exciting stuff: Chromecast and Chromecast audio.
October 2016: Google hires a huge warehouse in East London, invites every tech journalist in the land, puts on a performance-art show before the demo area opens up, invites celebrities and spends a good 20 minutes going through, in detail, why the new Pixel phones are so great. There was pomp. Plenty of it. Pomp pomp pomp pomp pomp.
This week’s ‘Made By Google’ event was an actual tech event. Minor Celebrities (and Craig David), mini burgers, a band and a dusty warehouse in trendy East London. Not to forget all of that pomp. It wasn’t like a Google launch party that I’ve ever been to.
What does it all mean? Google is finally taking its smartphones – and hardware in general – seriously this year. More than that, it wants to move the Nexus….sorry, Pixel from fanboy Android phone to mainstream iPhone killer. There were a few clues that gave the game away.
Having a market-leading camera, for example, is not typical Nexus territory. We’ve seen some decent snappers in previous Google devices like the 6P & 5X and Nexus 6 (to a varying degree), but similarly poor ones in the Nexus 4 and 5. Consistent top quality photography has always been Apple’s area. So Google turning up with the Pixel and the highest ever DxOMark score for a smartphone camera shows intent.
The partnership with Verizon, too, means that Google wants to harness the distribution and promotional power of the carrier. Here in the UK Google has an “exclusive retail partner” in Carphone Warehouse, which has over 1100 stores in the UK and ireland. Whilst previous Nexus devices have been available at shops like Carphone Warehouse, the exclusivity deal likely more in-store promotion and a harder sell to unknowing/unsure customers.
The jibes at Apple were apparent throughout the launch event, with most naturally focussing on the inclusion of a headphone jack in the Pixel phones. But the overall design is, to my eye, far more thoughtful than previous Nexus devices. Slim, light, simple and multiple colour options. The Pixel rebrand is more than just a new name, it’s a design concept. I suspect all future Pixel phones, like Apple’s iPhone, will follow a particular style. Evolving over time rather than veering from one one shape to another like the Neuxs 5 to the 6, or the Nexus 6 to the 6P.
The resounding opinion was one of enthusiasm for Google’s new handsets from the world’s tech press. And that enthusiasm has filtered down to the public. Anecdotally, friends and friends of friends who use all manner of devices have been asking me about the Pixel.
We won’t know until I properly review the device, but the early signs are positive for Google and it looks like the iPhone might have a genuine challenger to its crown.