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The only reason the Pixel line isn't Android's crown jewel is Google
Yesterday, some rare behind-the-scenes news broke related to Google and its line of Pixel phones. In a nutshell, some of the leads at Google expressed disappointment regarding the design of the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL before the devices even launched, and the line’s poor sales are proving their gut feelings correct.
Two of the most important people on the Pixel team have recently left. One of them is Marc Levoy, the computational photography expert who is a huge reason why Google Pixel cameras are so highly regarded. It’s hard to say what Google phones will even be like without Levoy around overseeing the team.
For Pixel fans, this news must be extremely frustrating. For myself, I’m not even a big fan of Pixel phones and I’m frustrated. I want so badly to love Pixel phones — I’m all-in on the Google ecosystem otherwise, so having a Google-branded smartphone would fit right in. I just can’t make the jump, though, because I’ve felt all along that the Google Pixel line is a total mess, and yesterday’s news pretty much validates those feelings.
I think the thing that frustrates me the most about the Pixel line, in general, is that Google has everything it needs to make Pixel phones the biggest name in Android. For whatever reason, though, it keeps shooting itself in the foot over and over again.
A Google Pixel phone should be the iPhone of Android
In our original review of the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, we referred to the devices right in the headline as “the Android iPhone.” What we were trying to point out is that Google is attempting to make a smartphone for everyone, not specific niche consumers. Samsung makes the phones for power users, OnePlus makes the phones for Millennial tech enthusiasts, LG makes the phones for audiophiles, etc. Google is trying to make phones for everybody.
The only problem, of course, is that Google sells far fewer Pixel phones than those companies do (yes, even LG). Clearly, Google’s reach far exceeds its grasp.
I don’t want to belittle what Google is trying to do. In fact, I fully support the idea of there being an iPhone of the Android world, and I wholly support that phone being created by the company that, you know, owns Android. One of the biggest reasons why iPhones are so popular and successful is because Apple controls everything about them, making the hardware, software, buying experience, support, and everything else all work together seamlessly.
Google can have that. It’s one of the largest, most successful, richest companies on the planet. It’s not like no one knows how to do it, either. I am just a journalist working in the tech industry, but it’s painfully obvious even to someone like me what Google needs to do (and stop doing) to make the Pixel line a winner.
The problems (and solutions) are so obvious
Everyone who’s owned a Google Pixel phone likely has their own gripes about the line. In my experience, though, these are the five things that I hear people complain about the most as well as the things that stop someone like me (a tech nerd who likes Google products!) from buying a Pixel.
Problem: Pixel phones have terrible battery life
When I found out that the Google Pixel 4 would actually have a smaller battery than what we saw in the Pixel 3, I literally laughed out loud. I mean, how did that even happen? Who made that decision? Battery life is already one of the most criticized aspects of every Pixel phone, why would anyone think a smaller battery would be a good idea?
Solution: Google Pixel phones need much bigger batteries. Full stop.
Problem: There’s not enough memory in Pixels
Google can argue all day that Pixel phones don’t need tons of RAM or internal storage. The company spends all this time developing software solutions and services that will make small amounts of RAM and storage work more efficiently. Just put more memory in the damn phones! RAM is one of the cheapest hardware aspects of a smartphone and 64GB of storage is just not enough for most people.
Solution: The main Google Pixel phones need 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage as a baseline.
Problem: Google Pixel phones are uncompetitive
There’s a lot to be said about forging your own path and not just following the pack. However, if a smartphone company decides to do that, it’d better be because it has some irrefutable proof that that’s what consumers want. Pixel phones don’t do that though. When bezels are getting trimmed, Google is thickening them up. When notches are on the way out, Google’s making them enormous. When multiple camera lenses are getting added to phones, Google’s sticking with just one. When phones are charging at super-fast rates, Google’s taking it slow. It doesn’t make any sense.
Solution: Google needs to suck it up and follow the most popular industry trends.
Problem: Pixel phones are plagued with hardware issues
Every time a new Pixel phone comes out, we make a whole article summarizing all the problems people have with them. We don’t do this for any other manufacturer. Google has proven over the years that its phones simply have way more issues than others. Now, there’s no easy solution to fix what seems to be just bad design/oversight, but there is a workaround: better service and support. Buying a Google Pixel phone should assure the buyer that they will get all the help they could ever want, just like how iPhone users know Apple will help them with whatever they need.
Solution: Google needs to bend over backward to support Pixel buyers.
Problem: Millions of people can’t buy some Pixels
The second-largest smartphone market on the planet is India. The Google Pixel 4 is unavailable in India. If you want a phone to be successful, it needs to be available everywhere for everyone. Samsung gets this. Apple gets this. Google, for some reason, hasn’t gotten the memo.
Solution: Every major market should be able to buy all Pixel phones.
These are the five biggest roadblocks standing in the way of the success of Google Pixel phones. All five are easily solvable. As I said before, I’m just a tech journalist, but apparently I (and most of Android Authority readers) seem to know more than Google here.
I do want to point out, though, that Google does get a lot right. The speed, consistency, and longevity of software updates are done really well, as is the general design aesthetic of Pixels. The way Pixel phones work with other Google products is also done really well, with seamless compatibility with things like smart speakers, Chromebooks, Pixel Buds, etc. Even the pricing of Google Pixel phones is pretty good, in my opinion (although some people might not agree with that).
The bottom line, though, is that Google is aware enough to do certain things right but somehow blind enough to miss a bunch of really obvious problems.
I’m ready to be the top Google Pixel fan. So make it happen, Google.
As I said before, Google has everything it needs to make the Pixel line the most popular and best phone in the Android ecosystem. It has the money, the resources, the talent, and a direct line to every Android user. It just needs to actually make a phone that people really want to buy and a phone which — and this is the kicker — they will be happy with for years. So far, the closest it’s come to that in the main Pixel line, in my opinion, is with the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL, and they came out in 2017.
I can only assume that the biggest problem related to these issues that Google faces internally is how many different departments a Pixel phone needs to appease before release. The design needs to appease the designers, but it also needs to have photography features that are innovative and unique, so that team needs to have a big say in that design. There needs to be seamless integration with Google Assistant but the marketing team wants something that’s easy to sell about the phone itself, not Google Assistant. All these different cogs might be Google’s biggest roadblock to success. TL;DR, phones are difficult to make, and there are a million problems that can arise during the development process.
But you know what? Tough. Figure it out. Other companies with far fewer resources have figured out how to sell Android phones like crazy. There is absolutely no reason why Google can’t do it, too.