The gloves are off, and Google’s iPhone/Galaxy envy is out in the open. No tech giant can ignore the smartphone market for long. And clearly, their Nexus approach was not working well. Now that their cards are in the open, here’s a brief a look at the major players at the big table

  1. Apple - Kickstarted the ultra-premium category, and hasn’t looked back. Their intense focus has waivered, as iPhone unit volume fell for two quarters YoY, they are simply playing a much longer term game than other vendors.
  2. Samsung - Keeping aside the Note-7 global catastrophe, Samsung has managed to surpass Apple in terms of bringing premium tech to the table. They are clear number one in both the volume and market share. They have ceded some ground to Chinese vendors, however globally they are significantly ahead of Apple in volume and range of products they ship, retaining the premium tag.
  3. Huawei (Oppo/Vivo/Xiaomi/ZTE/Lenovo) - The Chinese product offering. It has significantly more diverse range of products. Their ship an extraordinary variety of software and hardware combinations and all price points. However it doesn’t seem any of them are playing the long game. The durability of their phones is highly questionable, and user experience is mind numbingly poor and confusing. I am yet to see a longer term play other than Lenovo (Motorola) and bit by Huawei.

(Notably missing are Sony / HTC / Microsoft (Nokia). LG gets kudos for continuing to try)

It is really surprising that there is no other North-American heavyweight in the top-echelons of Smartphone market. To be fair giants like Blackberry, Motorola, Palm and Microsoft were all pioneers in this sector. However, most of them are either folded, sold or have little of no standing in the market today. Microsoft was expected to botch Nokia purchase. Motorola’s sale was also the right decision at the time. However that left Apple holding the lone-flag on behalf of entire North America and Europe (not counting Microsoft).

Enter Google to correct the imbalance. Apple should welcome them with open arms. Make no mistake, Pixel is not Nexus. Google was happy playing the software only (ala Microsoft) strategy via Android. However every large tech company has the iPhone envy. They cannot ignore the 1.4billion unit/year Smartphone market. Apple is currently selling ~200mn+ units a year for ~$150bn+ in revenue and 1bn+ active iOS devices.

Google now has a full fledged team to design hardware, and already they have five products out of the door.

  1. Pixel Phone - $649 starting
  2. Daydream VR headset and controller - $79
  3. Goole Home - $129
  4. ChromeCast Ultra - $69
  5. Google WiFi - $129

(To buy all five, you need $1055 + Taxes.).

Some estimates guess that Google has already invested ~$200mn in this full-blown hardware effort, and is committed for the kind of support Apple/Samsung provide to their customers. Even though the volume expectations are low for first iteration, it will be interesting to see how their product portfolio evolves over time.

Needless to say, I won’t be purchasing any one of these five devices. I am happy with my 42 month old Nexus-4. I already own $35 Chromecast. My router costed me $20 and gives me great range and decent throughput (poor latency though, but ISP may also be the one to blame for that). And Google Home is yet to be made available outside USA.

Pixel does present a unique dilemma to iPhone-7 and Galaxy-S7 buyers. For the same price/category product, are they willing to trust Google over Apple/Samsung? Given a choice I would.

Premium smartphone market has yet another entrant. It is here to solve it’s iPhone envy. They should keep in mind that many have whithered along this path (Palm, Blackberry, Nokia etc.). Luckily they have deep pockets to find out what customer wants. Pixel 2016 is stunning, it looks a lot like iPhone, which is perhaps a good thing. It has set the bar high, and I wish Google the very best to keep raising it.

Best, Umang

p.s. I was hoping Tango was part of Pixel 2016. It would’ve been the reason to buy the larger version. You may get rid of head-phone jack, we won’t consider that as a copy. Don’t forget to bundle OIS. We don’t mind the camera bump. F1/1.7-1.8 lens would be nicer as well. Water-resistance with stereo front facing speakers, 2 years warranty, minimum 3 years software support, etc. etc. There will never be a shortage of feature requests.

I am sure all these will be standard in Pixel 2017 with Android Oreos (8.0). No pressure.

p.p.s Who’s next Facebook or Snap Inc.?