Mobile Technology

How the Google Pixel can eventually topple the iPhone

How the Google Pixel can event...
The Pixel and Pixel XL, greater than the sum of their parts
The Pixel and Pixel XL, greater than the sum of their parts
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The Pixel and Pixel XL, greater than the sum of their parts
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The Pixel and Pixel XL, greater than the sum of their parts
Google Assistant integration is one of the major features exclusive to the Pixel
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Google Assistant integration is one of the major features exclusive to the Pixel
You can expect to hear a lot more about Google Assistant in the future – your own personal Google
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You can expect to hear a lot more about Google Assistant in the future – your own personal Google
Pixel and Pixel XL owners can enjoy unlimited uploads to Google Photos, including 4K video
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Pixel and Pixel XL owners can enjoy unlimited uploads to Google Photos, including 4K video
Accessories and add-ons, such as the Daydream headset, could be crucial for the Pixel
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Accessories and add-ons, such as the Daydream headset, could be crucial for the Pixel
Though they may seem overpriced and underpowered at first, the Pixels have real potential
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Though they may seem overpriced and underpowered at first, the Pixels have real potential
"OK Google, how about a cheaper price for the Pixel 2?"
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"OK Google, how about a cheaper price for the Pixel 2?"
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Amongst everything else that 2016 was notable for, we saw Google abandon its Nexus line of handsets and replace them with the Pixels – even purer visions of what Google phones should be. While the Pixel and Pixel XL may seem underpowered and overpriced at first glance, they're actually in with a chance of overtaking the iPhone juggernaut.

What follows is a list of some of the ways the Pixel and Pixel XL stand out, and how those differences give them a shot of giving Apple some serious worry, not just in 2017 but in the years ahead as Google refines its new Pixel approach.

These pointers are part observation and part advice about where Google might go with future versions of the phones (in case you're reading, Mountain View execs), but we've got no insider knowledge about what comes next – and in case you're wondering, we're big fans of the Apple iPhone too. If you've got any predictions or opinions of your own, let us know via the comments.

Put Google Assistant front and center

Google Assistant integration is one of the major features exclusive to the Pixel
Google Assistant integration is one of the major features exclusive to the Pixel

Apple and Google both have their areas of strength and weakness but even the staunchest Apple fan would have to admit Google's smart assistant and AI software is leading the way right now (albeit with a more invasive privacy policy to match).

Google Assistant – which you can't even get on other Android phones for the time being – is far from perfect in its current incarnation, but it promises a next-generation level of assistance that could potentially leave Siri in the dust.

If Google can iron out the early bugs from Assistant and improve its accuracy, we might be close to seeing something along the lines of the smart OS in the Spike Jonze movie Her: a digital friend completely tailored to our own personality and our own lives.

You can expect to hear a lot more about Google Assistant in the future – your own personal Google
You can expect to hear a lot more about Google Assistant in the future – your own personal Google

And Google is getting better and better at guessing where we want to go, what we want to see and what we're searching for before our fingers can reach the keyboard. With its ability to run web searches, launch apps, contact friends and more, it's perfectly plausible that we're looking at the future of the smartphone interface – a friendly bot in place of those rows and columns of icons.

For this to happen Google will have to get Assistant working a lot better by the time the Pixel 2 launches, but we think it has its nose in front of Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana in this regard, which might give iPhone owners pause for thought.

Siri and Google Now have featured prominently in the most recent iOS, iPhone and Android unveilings, so we'd expect more of the same in 2017 – and as hardware design and innovation reaches a plateau, software could be key.

More free gifts and ecosystem support

Pixel and Pixel XL owners can enjoy unlimited uploads to Google Photos, including 4K video
Pixel and Pixel XL owners can enjoy unlimited uploads to Google Photos, including 4K video

Here's a Pixel bonus you might not have heard about: free, unlimited, original-sized photo and video uploads to Google Photos.

Normally users have to either accept a certain amount of resizing in return for unlimited storage, or stump up some cash for extra storage to keep their images and clips at their original resolution. With a Pixel or Pixel XL, you don't have to pay for any storage or put up with any compression – anything uploaded from a Pixel device isn't counted against your Google Photos storage.

More perks like that (and Google Assistant counts as another) would certainly give iPhone users pause for thought, many of whom will already be using apps such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive and so on on their iOS devices.

Accessories and add-ons, such as the Daydream headset, could be crucial for the Pixel
Accessories and add-ons, such as the Daydream headset, could be crucial for the Pixel

Would you be tempted by a Pixel if it meant a few extra goodies in Gmail? Or perhaps a movie a month from Google Play? Google hasn't been shy in dishing out rewards in the past and there are all sorts of approaches it can take.

Don't forget that Google is more or less a hardware manufacturer now too – the Pixel 2 could be blessed with all kinds of exclusive Google Home or Chromecast tie-ins. There's also VR, and it's perhaps no coincidence that the Pixel and Pixel XL have been built to work seamlessly with the Daydream headset.

Many iPhone users are keen Mac fans as well, and Apple works hard to make all of its devices talk intelligently to each other. If Google can get its own hardware and software ecosystem in place, it's another reason for consumers to opt for the Pixel.

Work harder on price

Though they may seem overpriced and underpowered at first, the Pixels have real potential
Though they may seem overpriced and underpowered at first, the Pixels have real potential

There is a school of thought that Google priced up the Pixels to match Apple's iPhones directly, rather than as a reflection of what the handsets actually cost to build. After all, if Apple can get billions in the bank with a high markup on its phones, why shouldn't Google pull off the same trick?

Well, perhaps because Apple customers are used to paying a premium and the iPhone is a much more established brand. What's more, Google has launched some fantastically priced Nexus devices in the past, which makes premium-level pricing on the Pixels even harder to swallow.

We don't doubt that starting your own phone range is a costly business, and Google doesn't have the same manufacturing infrastructure (yet?) as the likes of Apple and Samsung, but if there's one area Google can really stand out it's with lower prices.

"OK Google, how about a cheaper price for the Pixel 2?"
"OK Google, how about a cheaper price for the Pixel 2?"

After all, it's the Google way – Gmail, Google Maps and most of its other apps and services are free to use and attract millions of users. The company makes its money through data collection and advertising, and while we wouldn't like to see ads on Pixel home screens, Google does have experience in getting people through the door for free and recouping its costs in other ways.

A low, low price would certainly tempt iPhone users away from Apple's walled garden, as the cheap Nexus phones of the past have proved. It would also help Google compete against Samsung's phones, which also cost a substantial amount of money.

This won't be easy, and it might mess with the premium mindset that Google is looking to foster with the Pixels, but if the iPhone has one glaring weakness it's the high price of its handsets (part of the reason the iPhone SE now exists).

In many ways the Pixel and Pixel XL are perfectly timed: phones that are more than the sum of their parts appearing just as the whole idea of the smartphone starts to come into question. Next year the iPhone, which set the bar for the modern-day mobile, turns 10 – and it's going to be very interesting to see where the technology goes next.

For more on Google's flagships, you can revisit our reviews of the Pixel and Pixel XL.

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9 comments
Loz Blain
The first thing Google needs to do is change "OK Google" as the Assistant wake-up phrase. Try saying it five times fast. You end up with "okookookoo" pretty quickly. It needs a fun name that's easier to say, like Alexa or Cortana or Siri.
JackSmith
Google Chrome browser is now 8 years old! Thought Google was crazy as that had been done and what was the point.
But Google added a few users each year. Pretty linear graph until recently. But now in the last year they added 300 million new users.
This is what I think the Pixel will look like. It is NOT going to eat into signficant iPhone base but instead take some each year until you wake up and notice that the Pixel has critical mass.
My very rough guess is 50 million sold year five. iPhone will sell about 180 or 190 million the same year.
JackSmith
"The first thing Google needs to do is change "OK Google""
I disagree. Watch the Google Home commercials with the little girl reading a book with her father. Or other Google Home commercials.
Listen to voice inflection on how they ask Google for the answer. From a business perspective keeping it "ok Google" or Google in the name is critical.
It is about branding. This is a safe, close family moment reading a book with your child and when this child feel safe, happy, the Google brand is associated with the moment.
It is PERFECT from a business standpoint. Not going to discuss appropriateness. But the marketing people earned their paycheck.

SeanTownsend
It doesn't matter what the hardware is like, the one thing that lets all phones down like this is Android, compared to iOS it's clunky and far from user friendly. It has improved over the years but it's still not comparable to the very user friendly iOS and until this changes i doubt there will be a phone that can topple the iPhone.
Rann Xeroxx
I disagree with the idea that iOS is easier or more intuitive than Android. Pure Android is about as easy to use as it gets. There is no need to go any deeper then the default launcher or such. And if you do want to play, there is nothing holding you back.
As an MDM admin I have worked open houses where our internal customers come in with their devices and we help them with issues. We get just as many iOS users with issues and questions as the Android crowd and a lot of it is what you or I would see as easy but just dumbfounds non-geeks.
morongobill
Google's timing has been blessed by the recent missteps of the other 800 pound gorilla in the room, Samsung. From the exploding batteries leading to the Note 7 debacle to the next major blow, the fragile glass on the S7 and S7 Edge(which has affected my wallet personally), Samsung has opened the door for Google to kick in, opening the Android market wide open. Unfortunately I am stuck with Sprint or I would be a Pixel owner right now.
DatsunFiveten
Better for less $ is exactly what Pixel phones need to be. I have a Nexus 6P for a year now and I cannot make myself even with a sale from Verizon pay that price or lock myself into 2 years of payments. I am not going to play the price escalator game anymore.
jjredfish
Pixel is a HUGE flop.
iPhone 5c is widely considered to have been a flop, and it sold 25 million in its first year.
There's ***no way*** both Pixel phones - combined - will come anywhere close to 25M.
They probably won't even get to the level of the Apple Watch - another notorious "flop" - that makes more profit than all of Amazon, every year, all by itself.
Nairda
IOS - basic intuitive interface, does not lock up or crash, secure core iPhone hardware - good cameras, reliable/repeatable operation, good camera, good battery (4s, 5s, 6s+) app ecosystem - vast, flexible, fully controllable apps from end user point, eg what can access phone peripherals and data
Google needs to overcome all of these