Well that was unexpected.
Just one day after we reported on the first Pixel 4 leaks, Google decided to launch a hype campaign for social media by literally tweeting an image of the upcoming Pixel 4. It was a smart recognition of how the run-up to the telephone really works and an even smarter way to take advantage of that dynamic. It was also, I believe, a statement: the Pixel 4 will be an unashamedly high-end.
That's just my prediction, but if Google is smart, it'll be right. With the release of the mid-range Pixel 3A smartphone this year, Google has created some space for itself to get something from the top from both a software and a hardware perspective. That's something we haven't really seen Google do with the Pixel line, and if it wants to prove it's seriously selling hardware, it must be a priority.
Let's back up and unpack everything because the dynamics surrounding Google & # 39; s Pixel line of phones are complicated and unique – and perhaps the tweet that kicked it all shouldn't have been unexpected at all.
If you are not arrested – and who can blame you for all this happening within the last day – this is the story. Do one of the usual scripts for phone leaks that started with views of a possible phone and then a metal snail for case makers. We also saw a rumor of a unique feature – sign control via a radar sensor.
We know how the rest of the script goes. Act two is even more leakage of possible functions. Behavior three are partly leaking and a glimpse of the actual cases designed for the new phone. Act four is real photos of the new phone and (if you are Google) some fall off a truck and are "assessed" before the phone is even released. Fifth, the conclusion, is the official announcement. It's always a small disappointment, because we already know everything before a manager jumps onto a stage somewhere confidently to tell you how their newest device is the best ever.
Google also knows this script. Everyone does. So really, what does the company have to lose by turning it around? We all know that Google will release a new Pixel phone later this year. We all know it will leak six ways until Sunday before hardware chief Rick Osterloh can squeak. Why not just tweet a photo that confirms that the phone is coming and – critically – is actually driving the hype cycle instead of running off the ground?
Well, I will tell you why not: because it raises expectations. It sets a bar that is higher than it would otherwise be if you just kept silent. We can look at the large square camera bubble and see that there are two camera lenses, a microphone opening, an LED flash and what looks like a spectral sensor. We can speculate in the intervening months about how much Google can do with those components. Ask which photography or video might be good enough to justify that honking cube from the back of the phone. Figuring out every detail, as if it was in fact fully announced.
It will be VERY interesting to see what Google has to say about the inclusion of two lenses and this huge camera bubble on the Pixel 4. After three years of hardware that honestly felt a bit sloppy compared to other flagships, it seems that they have it are going to try to go to HAM this year. pic.twitter.com/79D4wZOlCU
– Dieter Bohn (@backlon) 12 June 2019
By placing the image, Google not only gives us smart things to speculate about, but with a real image. It is praised for driving a conversation that would have happened anyway. But more importantly, I see this as Google laying down a glove: speculate away, we have this. It is a sign of not only self-confidence, but also chutzpah.
Apple is said to make a phone with an almost identical square camera bubble. Google is likely to be hurt to know that it has bought its phone for Apple, although – assuming that Google is sticking to the script – the next iPhone will be released in September, while the Google phone will not arrive until October.
But that little bit of cleverness doesn't change the fundamental thing that Google chose here: increase the stakes for itself. And with that I think the company should stand up for the occasion. It should make the Pixel 4 something that doesn't feel dirty compared to other flagships such as the Galaxy S10, iPhone XS, Huawei P30 Pro (RIP) or even the OnePlus 7 Pro.
I say that not only because Google is busy with a game of chicken expectations with this Twitter scourge, but also because there is a powerful and real business need for it. The Pixel, Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 were all great phones – and in some cases the best Android phones for most people. But they have never been the most impressive telephones from a hardware perspective.
The Pixel 1 could hardly be distinguished from a Nexus telephone. The Pixel 2 had those screen problems. The Pixel 3 seems to have persistent and persnickety RAM management problems (and a positively dull notch in the XL model). All three, however, did not dare from a design or material perspective.
The Pixel 4 is perhaps – although we only have one image to go out. It removes the matte + glossy finish. It drops the rear fingerprint sensor. It's different from the past – and again, all the signs indicate that it looks a lot like the next iPhone. If your phone looks exactly like the next iPhone, it would feel damn better and perform so well or better than the next iPhone.
Google & # 39; s Pixel line is now split into two price levels. The 3A is of great value, but it is much harder to make that cover for the Pixel 3. Competitive Android phones are faster, have better cameras, nicer screens and still cost less. If Google wants to justify prizes of more than $ 800 or $ 1,000 this year, it must make convincing hardware to justify those costs.
The Pixel also has a timing problem. It comes out in October, which is out of the cycle for when Qualcomm releases its newest and best mobile processors. That means that every Pixel has a top-of-the-line chip when it is released, but within 5 months there will be other Android phones with much better chips and often fresher designs. Design is not the only thing that influences or stimulates sales, but it does not help to have an old-fashioned phone if everything else on a carrier shelf looks much cooler. Google itself knows how well this went with the Pixel 3, which admitted that it was not as well sold as expected or even as good as the Pixel 2. Making nicer hardware that feels like premium as its costs is an important way to to compensate for that problem.
The Pixel 4 will also be the second Pixel phone that Google fully produces with its & # 39; Taiwan team & # 39 ;, or all HTC technicians who took over in January 2018. The first was the Pixel 3A, but that's a midrange phone. Now that all those HTC technicians are fully integrated into Google, the first flagship phone they produce must be great.
Last but certainly least: Google has finally started distributing Pixel phones in all US providers this year (AT&T excluded, but I bet this will change this fall), but only recently with the Pixel 3A, which means that the Pixel 4 will probably be the first flagship phone to be launched by all providers in the US, and making something uninspired means that you will receive much less marketing support and that fewer stores will be found. As is apparent from the sales performance of the Pixel 3, or the lack thereof, the weight that a provider places behind a telephone can make or break the device on the market.
More than anything else, Google must stop silently suggesting that it is still new to this hardware problem and really stepping up. After four years, it's time to start selling in volume, make phones that are directly competitive with the iPhone on every unit of measurement, and prevent everyone from wondering if selling hardware is just a side issue, just a hobby.
This year it will be big or will it go home for the Pixel.