The smartphone market is a very dog-eat-dog world. Markets vary widely in size, needs, and special considerations, leading to a huge number of decisions that have to be made with the utmost care. A single misstep can utterly undermine consumer confidence and royally sabotage efforts in a market, or even worldwide. When a company known for great hardware builds up hype for their latest and greatest, it works, and it works well. That’s why the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 sold millions, and part of why it garnered rave reviews all around. Until it started exploding, that is. At that point, things took a predictably dramatic downturn for the Note 7, and, two botched recalls later, analysts are predicting that Samsung is set to lose close to $17 billion when the smoke clears, and some 34% of survey respondents who bought a Note 7 say that they plan to avoid Samsung altogether. The timing for this couldn’t have been worse for Samsung, and that’s for two reasons; the Google Pixel, and the Google Pixel XL.
Moto is losing consumer confidence under Lenovo. HTC is still being ignored despite producing worthy devices. LG is experimenting with devices too odd to attract the mass market. Sony is in the middle of an all or nothing revival in their mobile business. Chinese manufacturers are just starting to get their land legs and gain consumer trust in other markets. For all intents and purposes, many consumers see Samsung as the best alternative to an iPhone right now, and even those in the know can’t blame them. So, what happens when Samsung devices start blowing up? First, the Note 7 brought the heat, then reports of other Samsung devices like the Galaxy S7 exploding started getting much more attention and scrutiny than the average story of a phone blowing up. Phones explode all the time; iPhones do it, Nexus devices do it, sub-$50 uber-budget devices do it, and Samsung devices did it before the Note 7. With the panic caused by the Note 7 warping Samsung’s image in the public eye, though, people have lost sight of that, and that’s very, very good for Google right now.
In 2016, you can’t take two steps without bumping into a phone featuring a 1080p or greater display powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM, but phones with Android 7.1, the newest iteration of Nougat, along with features like Google Assistant and Daydream, are far less common. Add a super-powered Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 to the mix and you’ve got yourself a unicorn of a smartphone. Specifically, the only ones you’ll find at the moment that fit the bill are the Pixel family, and Google should, and likely will, capitalize on Samsung’s mistake to sell those two phones like crazy. Samsung ran everybody else into the ground, and then literally blew up. Samsung could say all they want that only the Note 7 was truly dangerous, but the damage was done. With the Pixels launching on October 20, no device family is in a better position to be that hero.
The Pixels are not without their flaws; they aren’t waterproof, they’re going to be a headache and a half for root lovers, their prices are very high, and their initial availability is limited; in the US, for example, you’ll only be able to get one from Verizon for now when it comes to carriers, although you can buy them unlocked through the Google Store. Still, they do a lot of things right, and could easily attract jilted Samsung fans looking for something that’s like their beloved Galaxy, but without the boom. Enter the Pixels. Premium build? Check. Lots of power? Check. Exclusive features? Check. Tightly integrated hardware and software for a cohesive experience? Check. Stellar hardware miscellany like excellent cameras and good battery life? Check. Exclusive and premium VR ecosystem? Check. Gorgeous screen? Check. Aside from TouchWiz sticklers, Samsung fans that the Note 7 made wary have practically every reason to lust after the Pixel, even if many, like those who don’t have great credit or a lot of cash on hand and would have to buy from their carrier, or those in countries where the phone won’t launch for a while, are left in the cold for now. When availability inevitably gets wider as good reviews pour in and would-be buyers clamor for the phones, this will translate to sales. It won’t happen on its own, but Samsung’s slip-up with the Note 7 has made things way easier for Google than they would be otherwise. Google is already running TV ads and planning to drop millions on marketing for the Pixel devices. Pumping up an aggressive marketing campaign and addressing availability issues is, at this point, practically all that stands between the Pixels and becoming an Android icon the way Droids and Galaxies did, and Google has Samsung to thank for that.