NEWS ANALYSIS: Google's latest effort to produce an Android smartphone to compete with the Apple iPhone looks promising. But will it change the market landscape?
At first glance, the new Google Pixel
phone is a solid effort to bring customers a 'great piece of hardware supporting a solid implementation of the Android operating system.
Google says it will support the phone directly, which isn't actually manufactured by Google, even though the search giant claims it is.
The fact that Google contracted production of the Pixel to HTC isn't a game changer. After all, the iPhone isn't actually manufactured by Apple, either. Both are put together by two different companies under contract and both Google and Apple played significant roles in the design of their phones.
The Pixel phone, which will be released around Oct. 20, looks a lot like an iPhone, and while the screen on the standard Pixel is slightly larger than the iPhone's, both devices are about the same size. The larger version of each phone, the iPhone 7 Plus and the Pixel XL, are the same size.
You can do iPhone and Pixel comparisons of the feature and components of these phones, but you probably won't 'find that much difference in quality or performance.
Both have seriously good cameras, at least for a phone. Both have a software assistant—Siri on the iPhone and Google Assistant on the Pixel. Both will read your fingerprints to unlock the phone. However, the fingerprint reader is on the Pixel's back panel, which might be more useful.
But that's not what's really important with the Pixel. What matters is that Google is making the whole package and the company is supporting it all. For Google, this means there is one target for operating systems updates and for security refreshes, which it can accomplish immediately.
This is a major change from other Android devices, with which updates may or may not ever happen as the respective carriers ponder to update or not to update. Historically, those updates mostly haven't happened, leaving Android phone owners in a vast wasteland of expired operating systems with no chance of rescue.
Unfortunately, Google chose to go with only one carrier for in-store sales, which is Verizon. Anyone who wants to have a Pixel on a different network will have to buy their phone from Google and work with their carrier to set it up. This isn't exactly an onerous requirement, but it likely will suppress sales. The iPhone, by contrast, is available from a wide variety of carriers in stores that essentially are ubiquitous.
This arrangement also may sound similar to Google's Nexus phones—although with Nexus, other companies openly made the phones and Google provided Android and the software updates. The apparent reason for the name change from Nexus to Pixel is that Google has been more deeply involved in every step of bringing the Pixel models to market.
Many iPhone owners may recall that Apple had an exclusive distribution deal with AT&T for several years after it introduced the iPhone in 2007.