Opinion: Google's Pixel Phones are Still Just Nexus Devices

If 2016 is going to be known for two big things in the Android world, it'll be the Galaxy Note 7 disaster and the launch of the Google Pixel. The former is no doubt to dominate news cycles for weeks, perhaps months to come, due to the scale of Samsung's mobile operation and their reputation, but the latter is still incredibly important. The Pixel line of smartphones is important not so much because of what they are right now, but because of what they will be in the future. It's not everyday that a firm known for software and servcies decides to take matters into their own hands. When Microsoft did it with the Surface line of tablets to make Windows the touch-friendly OS it is today, it shook up the PC world and it's only the past year or so we've seen its effect. With the Nexus line of devices, Google set an example to partners such as LG, Motorola, Samsung and Sony, but with the Pixel line of devices, they're not just setting an example, they're creating the gold standard. Or are they?

Rumors are often brushed away as nothing new, and nothing helpful, but they can tell us a lot about what's over the horizon. In the case of the Nexus - now the Pixel brand - a good rumor can prepare us for what's to come, and this year was no different. We first started to hear about the Pixel and Pixel XL as a new pair of Nexus devices made by HTC. The Pixel Launcher was even seen as the "Nexus Launcher" before the idea of a Pixel phone became the frontrunner, which makes us wonder whether or not the Pixel devices are really the second coming of stock Android that Google would want us to believe. Are these devices that Google have designed from the ground up as they told us on stage during their October 4th event? Or are they just Nexus devices without an HTC logo on the back of them?

Our initial impressions of the Pixel and Pixel XL have been positive and now that we have one in-house our review is not too far behind, but we wan't to take our time, naturally. There are a number of things that Google have gotten right with the Pixel, but there are also a number of things that have people scratching their heads. For instance, the way that the devices are being marketed as being "Only on Verizon", all the while being available unlocked to be used on any carrier throughout the United States online. This is confusing for the average user, and even for those that are a little more invested in the world of Android. Make no mistake, it's the everyman that Google is going for with the new Pixel line of devices, and yet they're not exactly helping people with this style of marketing. How is it the average person Google is going for? Well, it's a hell of a lot easier to say to someone "Google made this phone" than to explain the relationship between Google and their chosen partner each year they release a new Nexus device, blurring who did what and who actually made the phone. Verizon might be one of the two largest carriers in the United States, but with every carrier offering their own special switching service, people don't want to be tied down, and given the poor experience customers had with the Galaxy Nexus it's a wonder Google even went back to Verizon at all.

This kind of marketing and positioning in carrier stores and online isn't good enough, Sure, we could argue that this is a "first time effort" for Google, but that's not really the case. Ever since the Galaxy Nexus they teamed up with Samsung for, Google has been selling Nexus smartphones directly to the consumer, and it has never really worked out all that well for them. It's not enough to put a new name on something, to create your own hardware, you need to make sure that it's readily available, easy to get hold of and make sure that consumers understand how to get their hands on it. Now that the Pixel is pretty much out of stock already, it's clear to see that Google hasn't succeeded at any of that. This distribution of the device is perhaps the biggest indicator that the Pixel line is just the Nexus line under a different name, the Nexus devices were notorious for offering users a poor and frustrating service online. I remember when I got my Nexus 5. I was lucky enough to get in real quick, about five minutes after they went on sale in the UK. I chose a standard Nexus 5 and paid £300 for it, and was still asked to pay delivery. The fact that I had to pay delivery on something that expensive was a bit of an insult in the first place, but the fact that I had to rush to get my order in was just laughable. This isn't China, this isn't the land of super-cheap smartphones with marketing tactics to get rid of stock quickly to keep margins up, Google should have done better, and they should be doing better now.

For the longest time, we have heard reports and rumors surrounding how the Nexus relationship with companies like Huawei used to work. The general consensus is that Google and a partner would agree on a device design and specification, and then Google would purchase a finite number of devices from said manufacturer. It's this reason that the Nexus devices are often out of stock very quickly, and also why it takes them a long time to come back into stock, because the manufacturer has to make more of them when Google requires them, How many batches are in the contract often determines how long the devices will be on sale, or so goes the story, at least. HTC is making the Pixel and Pixel XL this time around, and we're seeing Nexus-style shortages already, as the Google Store now has all models of the Pixel and Pixel XL either out of stock or delayed - perhaps to give HTC more time to make another batch? Regardless of the whys, this sort of thing is not how you sell a major release, and especially not one you want the average consumer to jump on board with.

Yes, it's very likely that Google genuinely didn't see them getting such a positive response, but there's little excuse to be out of stock this soon after the launch of a device, even more so during the Holiday period. This is the classic, lazy, throwaway sort of approach that Google has had to selling smartphones since the original Nexus One. Regardless of whether or not you're Google, the household name the vast majority of the connected world knows, it is no longer enough to build it, and expect people to come. While they will, they won't come in the sort of droves that the Pixel rightly deserves. After all, there's a reason why Google themselves sell all manner of advertising options online, and there's a good reason they have ramped up their own marketing machine for the launch of the Pixel. To make the Pixel really feel like hardware from Google, and a fresh start, the devices need to be widely available in stores as well as available from all of the big carriers all over the world. It was only when Samsung got the Galaxy S III on to all the major carriers as the same device that we saw the South Korean firm reach major success, and this is the sort of thing that Google should be planning for Pixel version 2.0 because right now, they feel an awful lot like Nexus devices under a different name.

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About the Author
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Tom Dawson

Former Editor-in-Chief
For years now I've had a heavy interest in technology, growing up with 8-bit computers and gaming consoles has fed into an addiction to everything that beeps. Android saved me from the boredom of iOS years ago and I love watching the platform grow. As an avid reader and writer nothing pleases me more than to write about the exciting world of Android, Google and mobile technology as a whole.
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