Google has launched a new family of smartphones, Google Pixel, the performance and price of which, say some, labels them as the umpteenth iPhone-killer.
For Google, the launch of Made by Google is certainly a very important step, and one that shows it has understood that it will never truly be able to compete without complete control over its devices, if it does not cover all the elements in the technology value chain. So far, Google has enjoyed very little success with hardware: apart from the great Chromecast, a relatively cheap device that has sold more than 30 million units, the business of selling products has been pretty much a sideline, which has been more focused on trying to be a platform to promote competition among manufacturers.
With Made by Google, the company seems to be changing that strategy: it is not only going to make its own devices — with all that entails today in terms of manufacturing: designing and subcontracting components and assembly to whom it chooses— but also to take the step of giving its smartphones features that other manufacturers may not have, thus risking alienating the manufacturers it works with now, and that might thus decide to leave the crowded Android world looking for greener pastures.
Although Google is making this decision at a time when, really, there is little world out there to go. After the company acquired Motorola to take over its patents, it then said the decision to sell it to Lenovo was purely tactical and not so it could compete with the many brands in the Android universe and not to prevent some emerging alternatives such as Tizen, Windows Phone,Firefox OS, Ubuntu Touch, Sailfish, or even Android forks such as CyanogenMod or others from gaining a foothold and threatening it. According to the pundits at the time, if Google was prepared to take a gamble on making its own handsets with Motorola, it was so that major manufacturers such as Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and others would see that they could not compete with it, and have no choice but to try to improve the alternative systems.
Now Google has decided to launch its own devices, basically taking whatever it likes from the highly fragmented Android universe and trying to bring it all together in one terminal, worrying the other manufacturers at the same time. In some ways, its approach is attractive: the camera, according to the reviews, is very good, and the idea of unlimited storage for photos and videos shows it has identified people’s worries. Fast battery charging, already used by some other manufacturers, is also a compelling value proposition.
The premium price of between $649 and $749 for the 32GB and 128GB terminals respectively, reflects the reality of the manufacturing process. Selling such a device for less would mean subsidizing it. Beyond this, and bearing in mind that the company is not particularly astute at launching its products we all know that the only launch that really makes an impact is the Apple iPhone.
For the moment, there is no iPhone-killer out there: there are plenty of models that exceed the iPhone spec for spec, but but nothing that can really take it on, and the pressure to come up with a silver bullet is leading some companies to make dangerous decisions and see themselves banned by most airlines.
These days launching a truly outstanding smartphone is very, very hard, although there are brands having a go, such as the Motorola with its Mods and its commitment to partnerships: the JBL speaker is a beauty, the projector is able to fill the entire wall of my bedroom room at night with a crisp, bright projection, and the camera is manufactured by a legend like Hasselblad. Companies that want the benefits specialization should just make them and stick them to their phones with magnets. I am not sure if the vast majority of the market needs those highly specialized accessories, but at least it’s a breath of fresh air and possibly a nice solution to some.
Google is taking a risk with Made by Google. It is entering uncharted water and has no idea how other manufacturers will react, and like most of its previous attempts in this area, it could just fail and get weak results in the market, just another failure for a company that seems to be having huge problems when it comes to diversify its sources of income. My opinion is that the company is not really focusing on hardware, but something else. I think that what really needs to be looked at here are issues such as trying to bamboozle the competition and the battle over home conversational hubs in the living room, personal assistants and especially artificial intelligence. That means filling our homes and our pockets with hardware, but that’s not the differential factor. Google’s move is not about hardware, but about intelligence, about machine learning. Hardware is hard, and while extremely important, is only a requirement, a qualifier. The differential, in this case, lies within.