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Google Pixel is fastest-growing US smartphone brand, but context is key

The "fastest-growing" stat sounds impressive, but some key data is missing to give proper context.

Published onFebruary 12, 2019

The back of the Google Pixel 3.
  • A new report concludes that the Google Pixel line of smartphones is the fastest-growing in the United States.
  • The report says that the Pixel line grew 43 percent year-over-year.
  • However, the report doesn’t list any sales numbers, so the 43 percent growth has no context.

Market research group Strategy Analytics just published a report titled “Google is Starting to Takeoff.” The report concludes that the Google Pixel line of smartphones is now the fastest-growing brand in the United States, beating out all major competitors — including Apple and Samsung.

According to Strategy Analytics, the Google Pixel line grew a whopping 43 percent in Q4 2018 as compared to Q4 2017. This feat is especially notable when you factor in that the overall U.S. smartphone market dropped by a worrisome 23 percent.

In other words, not only is the Google Pixel line growing at an incredible pace, but it’s also bucking the overall industry trend of a downward spiral.

Here’s the chart Strategy Analytics included in its report:

A chart showing the growth of the Google Pixel line of smartphones in the United States in Q4 2018.

This all sounds very impressive. However, it’s difficult to ignore the elephant in the room when reading the “Google is Starting to Takeoff” report: unit sales data. Since Google doesn’t report its Pixel sales or shipment figures — and Strategy Analytics doesn’t reveal any unit sales data in its article — this claim of 43 percent growth becomes relatively hollow.

For all we know, Google could have sold one million smartphones in Q4 2017, which would mean this 43 percent growth represents that the company sold 1.43 million smartphones in Q4 2018. While selling over one million smartphones in a quarter is certainly good, it’s peanuts compared to what Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, and many other smartphone companies are selling.

To be fair, Google could have also sold 10 million smartphones in Q4 2017, which would mean it sold 14.3 million smartphones in Q4 2018. That certainly sounds a lot better. The problem is, we don’t know the context of this 43 percent growth.

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We do have an inkling, however, that the sales aren’t as large as Google would like. For example, it’s been nearly four months since Google updated the Android Distribution report, which gives us an idea of how many phones are running the various versions of Android. The most recent data from October shows that phones running Android 9 Pie — which would likely include every Pixel phone ever sold, among others — doesn’t even amount to 0.1 percent of the total distribution of over two billion devices. Google says it hasn’t updated this data recently because of the data feed being under maintenance, but it’s hard not to think about how another report of weak Pie distribution would look bad for Google’s smartphone line.

The bottom line is that without sales data, we don’t really know how well the Pixel line is actually doing. All we know from this report is that Pixels are selling much better than they did one year ago, which, let’s be honest, isn’t that surprising.

What do you think about this data? Let us know in the comments.

NEXT: Google Pixel 3 Lite and Google Pixel 3 XL Lite: Everything we know so far

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