Google's Rumored Pixel 3 Smartphones Have Analysts Buzzing

The third-generation Pixel phones are expected this fall, according to a report, but Google has a lot to do to be competitive, say analysts.

Google Pixel

Google's Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones of the last two years haven't exactly set the world on fire in terms of sales and market share, but the company apparently isn't done with the idea of its handsets making a bigger impact against the likes of market leaders Samsung and Apple.

The next generation of Google Pixel smartphones, likely to be called the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL, are rumored to be coming in October 2018, according to a recent report by Bloomberg. The larger Pixel 3 XL could include an almost edge-to-edge screen and a screen cutout at the top of the display, while the smaller Pixel 3 is rumored to look like the current Pixel 2 (pictured), but won't get the notch of its larger brethren, said the report.

Google's original Pixel XL and Pixel smartphones first arrived in October 2016, and were followed in October 2017 with the current Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2 models. 

The Pixel 2 XL has a 6-inch quad-HD edge-to-edge plastic organic light emitting diode (pOLED) display, while the Pixel 2 has a 5-inch full HD active-matrix organic light emitting diode (AMOLED) display. Both Pixel 2 handsets include Corning Gorilla Glass 5 display covers and always-on displays, Qualcomm Snapdragon 835octa-core processors and the Adreno 540 graphics chips. They also have 4GB of LPDDR memory and model options of 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. Both also run on Android 8.0 Oreo and include unlimited online storage for photos and videos using Google Photo.

To battle Samsung's Galaxy S9 smartphones and Apple's iPhones, Google prices its unlocked Pixel 2 handsets starting at $849 for the Pixel 2 XL with 64GB of storage, and $649 for the Pixel 2 with 64GB of storage. 

But so far, those lower prices haven't been enough to really put a dent in the sales of phones from rivals, and that may not change much even after the rumored Pixel 3 models hit the market, analysts told eWEEK.

"Of course, Google is building new Pixels—it spent a billion dollars buying HTC’s Original Design Manufacturer business to be able to continue designing its own hardware," said Avi Greengart of research firm GlobalData. "Google's investments are clearly intended for the long term, because its current performance in the market has been mediocre."

The rumors so far point to "slightly updated versions of last year's models, with no changes in Google's distribution model, and no major changes to the form factor or new hardware capabilities," added Greengart. What makes little sense, though, is why the rumors don't also mention an edge-to-edge display for the standard Pixel 3 model, he said.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, said the next generation of Pixel phones will likely continue to be stalled by Google's lack of adequate marketing for its handset initiatives.

"One of the ironies of Google is that they make their money on other people's marketing but don't seem to believe in it themselves," he said. "Until Google learns how to market … these phones will continue to underperform their potential."

Another analyst, Charles King of Pund-IT, said that continuing talk of Google's Pixel smartphones someday being an iPhone killer "has little basis in reality."

The company set out with the Pixel models to provide a model for what could be achieved with Android, said King. "Yes, Google likely wants to sell more Pixels, but the idea that it wishes to seriously challenge Apple or Samsung seems more than a bit ludicrous. It's more important for the company to demonstrates the continuing, expanding value of Android as a platform for creative device development."

So far, Google Pixel sales have been "not bad, but not great" since 2016, said King. Some 3.7 million Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2 handsets were sold in 2017, about double the sales of the original Pixel models in 2016.

"If it can post near-similar growth in 2018, people may begin taking the Google more seriously," said King. "I haven't seen much on the popularity of the Pixel phones in the enterprise but anecdotally, I know many people who have adopted the Pixel in concert with Google Fi mobile services."

Gartner's Tuong H. Nguyen said that discussions of market share and sales miss the point in Google's case, because the company is building the handsets "to demonstrate to the industry some of the latest features and technologies in a holistic way."

Ultimately for Google it's not about sales and market share, but instead all about providing a showcase for other Google innovations, he said.

Another analyst, Dan Olds of Gabriel Consulting Group, said Google has a tough road ahead of it if it does hope to battle the titans in the market, Samsung and Apple.

The hardware and software in the Pixel 2 phones "are very good, maybe even great, but consumers haven't rewarded the company for it," said Olds. "From the research I’ve seen, Google Pixel phones have 1 percent or less of the U.S. market, even though Android-based phones have around 53 percent of the overall market."

According to Olds, "since Google is the company behind Android, this tells me that something is seriously wrong with their phone sales division."