Opinion post by
Bogdan Petrovan

The universe is conspiring in helping Google achieve success.

The sixth phone in the Pixel family will launch very soon, and I think that, despite the bleak circumstances, it will be Google’s most successful release yet.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Pixel 4a will be a home run. Google has showed us, repeatedly, that just because it can launch great products it doesn’t mean it will. Messaging apps come to mind…

But the Pixel 4a has a lot going on for it. The leaks point to a refinement of the same recipe that Google used last year with the Pixel 3a, our Editors’ Choice for best phone of 2019.

Read: Google Pixel 4a: Everything we know so far

More importantly, timing may play out in Google’s favor this time around.

Pixel 3a screen standing on table

For one, everyone has been increasing prices. Just as it was lamenting that people were holding on to phones for “too long,” the industry somehow decided that the best solution was to get greedy.

Mainstream phones that cost $1,400? It’s ludicrous and nobody’s even bothering to deny it anymore, except maybe for some bigwig at Samsung, Huawei, or Oppo. Oh, and a special shout-out to Qualcomm and the big carriers – their eagerness to make 5G happen has helped inflate phone prices across the board.

Timing may play out in Google’s favor this time around

Sensibly priced phones shine against this background of excess. How else could Apple, the poster child of fat margins, get rave reviews for a $400 revamped iPhone 8?

Like the new iPhone SE, the Pixel 4a will stand out through restraint, in terms of specs, design, and, of course, price tag. At $400 or so, it will easily pass the “good enough” test for most people who, despite what the industry seems to think, are not made of money. It will be a breath of fresh air.

The global coronavirus crisis has thrown all bets off. Amid the uncertainty, people are even less likely to spend $1,200, $1,000, or even $800 on a phone. Some may put off buying a new phone until things begin to resemble normalcy again. But batteries will still die, displays will still break, people will still lose phones. For those who need a new device, cheap phones will make a lot more sense compared to pre-pandemic days.

Read: Survey says: Uh oh, most fans prefer the OnePlus 7T to the OnePlus 8 series

As more people move their professional and social lives online, Google will have another unexpected advantage. Where Apple and Samsung dominate physical retail and carrier channels, Google has always focused on online sales. At the very least, social distancing will hinder Google less, compared to the incumbents.

Ironically, Apple has helped set the stage for the Pixel 4a. Not for Android fans or tech connoisseurs, but for the rest of the world. You can get a great phone for $400 – that’s the message most people should get from the iPhone SE coverage. And if Apple can do it, so can Google. It may not have Apple’s stellar reputation and mindshare when it comes to phones, but Google comes close in terms of prestige. That is crucial, because only prestige can make a 2017-era design look desirable in 2020.

Even before its launch, the Pixel 4a is Android’s best answer to Apple’s sneak attack on the mid-range

Google’s reputation and prestige are based on its supremacy in apps and web technologies, rather than consumer electronics expertise. The one exception is cameras, where the Pixel 4a can really shine. If it can beat the iPhone SE and more expensive Android devices, it will become the automatic recommendation to anyone looking for a great cheap phone with a good camera. Not to mention the most affordable ticket to exclusive Google features and services.

Read: Camera shootout: OnePlus 8 Pro vs Galaxy S20 Plus vs Huawei P40 Pro

Even before its launch, the Pixel 4a is Android’s best answer to Apple’s sneak attack on the mid-range. It’s a segment that’s poised to grow, for all the reasons we discussed above. The Pixel 3a was Google’s best-selling phone last year, and in 2020 the company can build on that foundation with the Pixel 4a. If this phone is the success I envision it to be, it could inject new purpose in Google’s phone strategy, which has been a bit aimless in the last couple of years. Perhaps the rumors of a “mid-range” Pixel 5 are another sign of a change in focus.

I may still eat my words a few months from now, but right now I’m optimistic about the Pixel 4a. How about you?

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