Last year, in October to be precise, Google launched and released the Google Pixel phone. This brought to end months of speculation around the phone from a rash of sources about the advent of another Google Phone.
When the rumors started, it didn’t make sense one bit. Google already had a phone, the Nexus, which was doing well in the competitive smartphone market since they hit the shelves in 2010.
So what changed? Why did Google, a company making billions of dollars annually on softwares, decided to get into the hardware business? How about Nexus Smartphone, what becomes of the brand?
The Android connection
Android, a proprietary Google open-source software is at the heart of new Pixel phone strategy. The Android OS system has grown to become the dominant OS in the world for smartphones. Over 90% of smartphones use the OS. And it is not going to change anytime soon. It is almost like a monopoly.
However, even with that dominance, Google have little control of what phone manufacturers do with the OS on their own devices. Standards have been seriously compromised especially by the Chinese OEMs. Some of the unintended consequences of the growth of the Android OS include
- There are now many sub-standards android smartphones in the market
- The net effect of the compromising standard is the numerous security breaches associated with the OS. Compare that to iOS devices that are as secure as the Fort Knox.
Google execs have spent resources attempting to improve Android security. But it became a losing battle for them as manufacturers of mid-range and budget phones cut corners in the interest of profits.
Something had to give or else Google and Android would lose all credibility in future.
Anti-trust litigations around the world
Businesses around the world, especially in the European Union, were very uncomfortable with the dominance of Google’s flagship product, Google Search.
It was in response to this concerns that the EU dragged Google to court to answer for anti-trust and monopolistic practices.
The issues by the EU can be summarized thus: Google used its dominant OS and search engine to gain undue advantage over other companies in the European Union.
The evidence against Google is compelling. And given the prevailing mood, Google is never going to come out of the lawsuits smelling of roses.
One of the solutions advocated by EU commissioners is to break up or unbundle Google Search from Android OS on one hand and to delink both of them from the Google’s other operations on the other. In other words, break up Google into smaller, independent units.
That is in addition to the huge fine Google is likely to pay if found guilty.
Things are not looking good for them. The task now is what to do going forward. This is where the issue of the Pixel phone comes in.
Also read: Why Google Killed Project Ara, the Modular Smartphone Concept
Protecting the Franchise with a new phone
The model for this is Apple, iOS, and iPhone. The iOS operating system is used exclusively on Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad. This has worked in Apple’s favor making iPhone the best-selling smartphone in the world.
Because of the exclusiveness of iOS, Apple can do whatever they wish to do with it. Security breaches are few because nobody else uses iOS so it is easy to enforce high standards in all the gadgets.
This is the route Android wants to take with the Android OS going forward. But the question of the Nexus still remains. What made it impossible to execute that strategy using the Nexus phone?
For starters, the Nexus is actually not made by Google. The phones were outsourced to companies like HTC, LG and Huawei to build the hardware. So while these companies were in charge of production, Google handed over newer versions of Android OS to them to install in the Nexus phones.
So the Nexus phones had a history of not being actually Google-made smartphones. They were just basically vehicles to introduce the latest Android OS and new updates of existing versions of the operating system.
Google wanted a clean break. A fresh start to carve a name for themselves as serious players in the smartphone business.
Rick Osterloh comes aboard
It completely made sense that Google decided to revamp their hardware division months before the release of Pixel phone. They hired Rick Osterloh to be in charge of the division.
Osterloh was once a super executive in the defunct Motorola. He was in charge of developing and marketing the smartphones made by Motorola. So you could say Google brought in a man with a good track record and experience in making and selling smartphones.
With Osterloh on board, Google was ready.
The end game
Now it is clear what direction Google is taking the Pixel phone. The phone came with impressive specs to rival the best. A Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 12MP of amazing primary camera among other top features told the world Google planned to play with the big boys and remain on the field for a long time.
To be taken seriously, Google had to make a high-end device that would compete with the Flagship of the big two, Samsung’s Galaxy series and Apple’s iPhone. And there is the added advantage of hitting the market with the latest version of the world’s leading operating system, Android 7.1, Nougat.
With a top end phone now out, Google can concentrate on maintaining standards especially as they concern security issues in the Pixel. The Pixel would now be used as evidence that the Android OS is as stable and secure as the iOS. Given time, the narrative would switch to how so much better the Pixel is to any phone on the planet.
How does this checkmate the EU’s punitive measures? If the outcome of court cases goes against Google, they already have a product, the Pixel phone, where unbundling Google Search from the Android OS won’t be an option. Other Google products (apps) can still remain part of the Android OS in Pixel phones without the fear of the courts.
Looking further ahead, one can envision a future where Google either makes Android OS exclusive to only the Pixel phone, or create a brand new OS for their own smartphone.
A third option could be explored; end all future updates for the Android OS, effectively shutting out other companies from piggybacking on Google’s products to make money.
The bottom line of all this is simply this: Google would do all it can to make sure the prospects of the Android OS franchise remains robust. Even it means slugging it out with the established players in the smartphone production business.