A recent discovery about this year’s Pixel 5 phone could completely change the conversation about the device and could be a very good thing.
Let me take your mind off more pressing and serious issues for a moment to consider something of little global importance here in the land of mobile technology. In a month, Google will likely introduce its next self-made Android phone, the mid-range Pixel 4a. And later this fall, we hope to see Google’s next flagship model, the Pixel 5.
I also said that the Pixel 4a has the potential to be Google’s interesting phone for most of the year, just as the boring Pixel 3a proved to be the company’s top device in 2019. As we noticed during the arrival of the 3a , the most important ads are often not the most interesting.
Well, now, a new set of observations suggests that the Pixel 5 may actually have more in common with the mid-range Google phone line than you might think. And as a result, the phone suddenly does two seemingly contradictory things: It seems much less interesting to some people and it seems much more interesting and potentially important to those of us who focus on the big picture.
Let me explain.
The philosophy of pixels
From the beginning, the Google Pixel line has focused on providing high-end, flagship Android experiences. Of course, the Pixel 3a has fulfilled this mission, but the main flagship Pixel ships have always been positioned and appreciated as top flagship phones.
Now, however, some profound discoveries in Google’s development code make it appear that the Pixel brand’s mission and accompanying positioning can make a subtle but significant change.
Here’s the context, in case you haven’t heard yet: the 9to5Google tape has received a preview version of what appears to be the Google Pixel 4a Camera app. They studied the code closely and found what appears to be a number of references to the future Pixel 5 phone, which is probably developed with the same basic camera software.
The details there become a bit technical, but the short version is that the code suggests that the Pixel 5 could end up using a state-of-the-art Qualcomm processor instead of the top chip present in most current Android flagships.
So what does that mean, in real terms? Well, the answer varies depending on who you ask, but basically: it means a lot to a very small subset of super-nerd smartphone – the kind of tech-minded people who are obsessed with specs, landmarks and knowing. buy has everything that is best, inside and out. (Without respecting those people either; this term is a badge of honor in my book!)
However, for the vast majority of phone owners it means – drumroll, please – absolutely nothing. Anything. Zero. Bupkis. With the right kind of software optimizations and attention to experience, you will not notice in any way or realize the difference between a Snapdragon 865 processor, the top chip of the moment and Snapdragon 765G, the power. It is believed that the Center is present in the future Pixel 5.
(If you want a full technical explanation of the differences between those basics, you can find a good description here. But if anything mentioned on that page really matters to you, let’s say it definitely falls into the first category described above.)
Where the price might generally matter is: by opting for a cheaper chip, Google could reduce the price of the Pixel 5 from the current starting point of the $ 800 line, say, maybe somewhere in the $ 600 or $ Ballpark 700 And this seemingly small change could make a big difference in how the phone is perceived, and ultimately, if Google plays its cards right, how well it sells.
As is often the case in these sectors, there is an almost extremely appropriate historical analogy to consider in perspective.
The history of pixels
We tend to think of the 2016 Pixel as the first self-made Android device by Google, but Google launched its first fully developed phone in-house three years earlier, in 2013.
That’s when the first generation Moto X appeared in the world. At the time, as you may recall, Google owned Motorola. And when the Moto X was announced, many tech experts rushed to dismiss the device for its less stellar specifications and its top interiors.
The phone’s processor is the perfect example – Moto X received a lot of criticism for having a simple dual-core processor at a time when high-end flagships were moving towards the new and more interesting quad-core standard. But guess what? Moto X actually felt faster in the real world than most quad-core contemporaries.
It was an important lesson in the notion that specifications are not everything. What matters more than the model of the chip inside a phone is how the company that makes the device uses that chip along with the software and other elements to create a real user experience. As I wrote at the time, «instead of worrying about the look of the spec sheet, Moto has just created a compliant configuration.»
And if you allow me to read a little more about my favorite writer:
If you are looking for specific isolated technical parts … Moto X is probably not the phone for you. It is by no means a perfect device and there are absolutely individual areas where other smartphones stand out.
But if you are looking for a carefully made phone with really attractive features and, most importantly, a remarkable, cohesive overall experience that will delight you from the moment you pick it up, you will be hard to find. another product that matches what Moto X offers.
Now, let’s give Google the benefit of the doubt and assume that it manages to create an exceptional user experience, consistent with what we saw on the previous pixels on your phone. Pixel 5. Replace «Pixel 5» with «Moto X» in paragraphs above. , assuming that everything we believe about the phone comes true, and the two paragraphs written in 2013 seem to talk about the coming of Google this year. flagship, right?
Of course, there are a lot of «ifs» involved right now, and here’s another one: if Google manages to eliminate all of this, while selling the phone for between $ 600 and $ 700, that would go against it. OnePlus instead of competing for attention against the latest gadgets from Galaxy. The premium phone market, especially in the United States, is known to be difficult to compete unless its brand rhymes with Phlamsung or Schmapple. But that high-end area, where phones are premium in nature but doesn’t reach the position of the top shelf of every imaginable bell and whistle, leaving no room behind, is a place a company like Google could imagine it. you have a good chance of finding your balance.
And there is something more important to consider.
Remember, despite recent advances by some Android device makers, Pixel phones are still in a league of their own when it comes to reliable and timely software updates – a factor that smartphone owners know about means more during the year. phone than any other. unique specification or external element. Crucially, Pixel phones are also the only Android devices that have had a full three-year continuous update of the operating system, significantly increasing the value they offer as long as you have them.
I did some clever calculations on this subject with a $ 800 Pixel phone last year and found that even at that price, a Pixel ended up earning about $ 22 a month in the three recommended years of ownership. If the Pixel 5 offered the same three-year upgrade warranty at $ 700, your actual monthly cost would drop to $ 19. At $ 600, your phone will actually cost you only $ 17 for each month you keep it (assuming, as in all these cases, that you keep it during the three years you actively receive updates and no more).
Now, compare it to a device like the Galaxy S20, which starts at $ 999 and receives only two years of guaranteed operating system updates – with that phone, you look at $ 42 a month during the recommended ownership period – the two years lasting. stay up to date and receive support. This is more than double the monthly cost of the pixel at that hypothetical price of $ 600 to $ 700.
Heck, even a phone like the current OnePlus 7T would be hard to compete with the theoretical value of the Pixel 5. With two years of guaranteed upgrades, the $ 599 OnePlus 7T sells for about $ 25 a month over its recommended property. Despite matching the lower end of our speculative Pixel 5 price, even that aggressively priced phone can’t get close to the overall value of the Pixel with that extra year of software support offered by Google.
And you know what? Given this type of value, any minor questions about the phone become much easier to forgive than in the range of $ 800 or more.
It’s a different way of thinking about a «pilot» phone in 2020
Last year, we drew parallels between Google’s position with the Pixel 3a and what the company had achieved years ago with the Moto G, a phone that seemed boring on the surface, but managed to offer an unmatched level of quality in its field. And it has become the best-selling Motorola smartphone.
Now I wonder if the Pixel 5 could really be the company’s Moto X moment: the transition from trying to play the typical iconic game and, instead, to a model focused on an exceptional experience in a sensibly balanced package. It’s a different way of thinking about a «pilot» phone in 2020 and I can’t help but wonder if it’s one that could work.
The million-dollar question, of course, is whether Google would emulate the Moto X model only in focus and experience, or whether it would emulate the Moto X model in the critical success of the device along with business failure. But Google has come a long way since the days of Moto X when it comes to areas such as production capacity, retail availability and even marketing.
Maybe, just maybe, this time it could be different and maybe this time, Google’s gambling could finally bear fruit.