Google on Thursday unveiled its pixel 7 Y Pixel 7 Pro, smartphones that advance digital photography and incorporate new and practical AI functions. However, what Google needs along with a better product is a better way to sell it.
The zoom capabilities of Pixel phones take a step towards the versatility of traditional cameras. The guided frame provides voice prompts for blind people to take selfies. You can use your voice to choose emojis. But all of those features, which Google showed off at its Made by Google event in Brooklyn, are academic if Pixel phones continue to be classified as barely a niche product.
See also: Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel Watch: everything Google just announced
Pixel phones hold just over 2% of the US smartphone market share, according to analytics firm StatCounter. Samsung, the leading phone maker that uses Google’s Android mobile software, has a nearly 30% share in the United States. Apple now has a majority stake in the US, the first time that has happened since 2010.
A stronger Pixel presence could infuse Google innovations like computational photography, phone call detection, and responsive voice dictation into more third-party Android devices. Google is forced to play a balancing act with its OEM or original equipment manufacturing partners, slowly pushing out players like Samsung without becoming too competitive. But given its niche status, Google needs to do a better job of getting people to buy its phones. Google can take advantage of stronger marketing, partnerships with carriers and take advantage of its dominance in home technology. Doing so will give consumers more than just the two default iPhone and Galaxy S phone options.
“Google is trying to play this balancing act where they need to make the Pixel good, but I’m concerned if they’re not trying to gang up and build the best flagship devices,” said Anshel Sag, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
It could mean that Google is deliberately holding back, influencing but not threatening Android phone partners like Samsung, Motorola and OnePlus.
But the less successful Pixel phones are, the harder it is for Google to recruit good engineers and ultimately continue the effort. Here are some changes Google could make so pixels don’t remain a rarity.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The right kinds of marketing moves could mean Pixel phones are making a splash.
Former T-Mobile CEO John Legere once loaned people an iPhone 5S for a week so they could try it out on T-Mobile’s network. By loaning out iPhones, potential customers easily overcame fears about whether the company’s network actually worked in their homes. Google could benefit from that kind of maverick mentality.
Google has a lot of money for ads, football jerseys, billboards, and race car sponsorships to showcase its products. But it can be hard to convince consumers that new features are must-haves, not just nice-to-haves.
“We’ve reached a point in the maturity cycle where these devices do more than most people want or need. So any device is good enough,” said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen. Ultimately, most of the cool features are just “icing on the cake” that appeal only to the limited market of early adopters and other tech-savvy buyers, he said.
Google could help get pixels directly into people’s hands. Pop-up shops or stalls at music festivals, for example, could let potential customers see how well you Pixel 7 Pro camera really zoom or appreciate how quickly your words appear on the screen while you are dictating a text.
Carriers remain the primary way consumers buy their new phones. Walking into a store, people can talk to phone experts and find the devices that fit their needs. As for sellers, they ultimately want the easiest sale. If a customer walks in and leans into an iPhone, it’s best to push them in that direction and move on to the next customer. For store associates to consider drawing people to the Pixel, they’ll need training and incentives.
Even then, this would be a multi-year effort on Google’s part and the company could face pushback from its OEM partners who also power millions of units inside T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon stores.
“I feel like a multi-year effort seems very serious, and it could be another point for OEMs to balk at Google for being too serious about the Pixel and too competitive with them,” Sag said.
Pixel Trojan Horse with Home Technology
Google can also take advantage of its relative strength in smart home technology to connect the Pixel.
Google has competitive Nest smart doorbells, routers and speakers, products built on solid Google Assistant technology. Amazon’s Ring and Echo products are also strong, but Apple is relatively weak, and that opens the door for Google.
“There’s no question that Google Assistant is a far better product than Apple Siri,” Sag said.
With that foothold, Google could lure consumers to the Pixel. Someone who already has a Nest doorbell or thermostat could get a significant discount on the price of a Pixel product. This could mean receiving a Pixel tablet and magnetic charging dock at a discounted price when bundled with a Nest security bundle.
However, Gartner’s Nguyen is skeptical that Google would go so far as to bundle hardware to power additional Pixel products.
Google has been making phones since the Nexus One in 2010, putting a higher priority on the effort with the first Pixel phone and the Made by Google project in 2016.
Not everything has lasted that long at Google, as evidenced by the recent cancellation of the Stadia cloud gaming service and the Killed By Google web chronicles.
Year after year of constant improvement, however, can bring results. Google is promising five years of security updates for the Pixel 7, a sign of long-term thinking. Google has ordered 8 million Pixel 7 phones and hopes to double sales to 8 million by 2023, according to Nikkei Asia. Off-season phones like this year’s Pixel 6A offer excellent value for money.
A percentage point of market share here, a percentage point there; maybe one of these years it will all turn into something meaningful.