So the Pixel and the Pixel XL are now here. Google announced these latest smartphones at the start of October along with a bunch of other stuff. Since then, they have been available on pre-order and then came what represented a product launch On October 20 with the two Pixel phones going on general release. Well, sort of. It seems buying one of the Pixels is not quite as easy as it should be and this has drawn quite a lot of criticism from some people, although, probably unfair criticism.
If truth be told, the Pixels have not only just started to become the subject of controversy or criticism. Literally, since the very first ‘2016 Nexus’ rumors and reports started to come through, they have raised eyebrows. At first, the rumors hinted at HTC making the ‘next Nexus’ and that immediately drew negative comments. So when the news followed that HTC was actually making two Nexus devices for Google this year, as you might expect, with twice the number of smartphones came twice the number of negative comments. Then came the rumors about the specs and how the Pixels would only have 4GB RAM and so on, as well as the images which started to come through showing a two-toned back and an iPhone-like design - which also drew criticism.
Of course, nothing was able to prepare for the onslaught of negativity that then emerged when it was rumored that Google was dropping the Nexus branding altogether and replacing it with the Pixel branding - this one really infuriated people. Although, the fury was probably to be expected, as with change, comes caution. However, all of that is old news now and has been for some time. Now the phones are here, people have stopped complaining about these things and generally speaking, people seem to quite like their new Pixel. But that has not stopped the complaining in general. Instead of complaining about the actual device (which people have now realized is actually very good), the complaining has switched to how Google has approached selling the device. Of course, everyone is entitled to complain about whatever they want, but to be clear, people do need to understand that Google is doing what they can to make this a success. In spite of what some people might think, right now should be about supporting the brand, the Pixel phone, and Google in general, not trashing them for just about everything they do.
So what are people upset about? Well, marketing is definitely one of the aspects. The Nexus brand was never really marketed by Google and certainly not to a competitive level. While it is already abundantly clear that Google is marketing the Pixels much more, there has still been some criticism of how they have marketed the new phones. In particular, the ‘Only on Verizon’ marketing. Which also ties in with another common criticism, carrier availability. As these two are largely interconnected, we can approach them both together.
Firstly, the Pixel and the Pixel XL work on all major carriers in the US. So whatever it says on the tin, or on the billboard, or in the advert, doesn't actually matter. Whatever carrier you are on, the Pixel will work with your carrier. However, people are complaining that Google are confusing the matter and making it appear that the Pixel phones will only work on Verizon. Firstly, this is Verizon’s doing, not Google's. Secondly, yes, the labeling might suggest that the Pixels are only on Verizon, but that is not the case. So while it can be argued that the marketing might mislead some, let’s get one thing straight - it is not misleading any of us. The same people who are complaining about this being misleading, are the same people who are more than aware that it works on all the US carriers. So while it might not be clear to the average, unaware, consumer walking past a billboard, who knows nothing about Nexus or Pixel, it is not an issue for those who are eager to buy the Pixel. For those consumers, it works with their network and they know that it does, so it's time to stop the complaining.
Moving on to those consumers that are walking past the billboards and unaware of the Pixels in general, then yes, it could be argued that they might be led to think that the Pixel is a Verizon-only device. But here is the kicker and what brings us onto the carrier-related aspect. If Google had released the Pixels on all carriers (keep in mind they do work with all the carriers), then there would have been no particular incentive for any of the carriers to actively push the Pixels. After all, why would any of the major US carriers really care about a new phone from Google? If it does not sell itself, like a Samsung or an Apple phone does, then what is in it for them? If consumers are not already walking in off the street and demanding the Pixel phone, then why would they care that a new Pixel phone is available? This is the cold reality of the market and going down the ‘get it anywhere’ route would have meant that Google would be solely responsible for the entire marketing approach, push and financing. While some will say that should be the case, these things can be costly. And keep in mind, the same argument can then be made about HTC’s involvement. Maybe Google should have just made the phone itself? What they have done for their debut smartphone is partner with an OEM to bring to market a solid-built smartphone and there is nothing wrong with that approach.
Likewise, what Google has done is bring on a carrier which is actually excited about pushing an unknown phone to an unaware market. And not just any carrier, mind you. Only the largest carrier in the US. Which means that they now have the largest carrier in the US helping to market and make the general consumer public aware of the Pixel. Yes, they might also become aware that it is available from Verizon and yes, they might even be led to believe that it is only available through Verizon, but welcome to business 101 - you cannot sell a product if no one knows it exists. Whether they are on Verizon or not, whether they are put off by the assumption that it is only on Verizon or not, they have still been exposed to the product and to the brand. And this is what really matters. To all those who criticize Google’s marketing strategy, you are assuming Google is marketing one device, this Pixel phone. They are not, their marketing strategy is a little more forward-thinking than that, as they are building a device brand here and therefore, are marketing a device brand, not an individual device. While sites and the general tech community will decide the success of the Pixel and the Pixel XL purely based on ‘units shipped’, you can be sure Google will not. What they will be looking to achieve (and will view as a success) is that by the time the Pixel 2 comes about, the wider and normally-unaware market is aware of the Pixel smartphone brand. If that does happen, then you can be sure that the Pixel 2 will come to all carriers and there will be no ‘only on’ tags attached.
This also applies to the other major criticism of the Pixel marketing and availability. As well as the Verizon-involvement, the heightened level of branding, TV adverts and street advertising, Google has also been trying to get the Pixel in people’s hands so they can actually get to grips with the smartphone. An example of this is the pop-up stores that are currently doing the rounds. However, in spite of this, some are still arguing that Google should have done more. They should be opening stores where members of the public can walk in off the street, look at the phones and presumably, buy the phones. While this would be the ideal, it is not exactly realistic. How many stores do people think Google should suddenly open? Where should they open them? - in every city in the world?? Just the US? Is one in every major city enough? It is very easy to say that Google needs to be putting the devices in the hands of more people, but being able to do that, as a company who traditionally does not sell hardware, is a lot harder than most people seem to think. Especially, when at the same time they are also in the middle of one of their biggest marketing spends on hardware, for what is one of their biggest hardware launches ever. The phone has only been available for two weeks and already some expect a Google Store to be open on every street corner. It is just not reality. Of course, there is the argument that they should at least open one store.... To those who forward that argument - how useful would one store really be?
What is realistic though, is to take a slow and steady approach to a new product line. Open some channels, like for instance - an online store (like the Google Store), or for instance - some partnership distribution channels (like Verizon), or for instance - some on the ground customer-facing initiatives (like the pop-up stores), and build-out from there. As the brand-awareness increases and more people start to understand and want a Pixel phone, and you (the company) sees the results and the demand, then you can start to further establish a greater street presence, distribution-network and user-facing storefronts. To expect what is essentially a new smartphone manufacturer (who does not even make their own smartphone) to suddenly open a chain of smartphone retail stores across the globe, is more than a little naive. Google, or Alphabet, or whatever you want to call it, is a business and while they are known for spending money on ‘Bets’, this is not exactly something they are betting on, it is something they are building towards and that requires an actual thought-out and strategic plan.
While some argue that opening stores (at least some) would help to build-out quicker, would it really? Let’s face it - those who are aware of Pixel already, will not be waiting for store availability of the Pixel phone. They are those who pre-ordered the Pixel or the Pixel XL immediately on October 4 and from the Google Store. Which means those very same people who are arguing that a store presence is needed (and would increase sales), are not even part of that supposed Pixel store-purchasing custom. So, the already-established Pixel-market is one which is not likely to shop at these stores at all. Yes, they might swing by one, take a look around and snap a few pictures and upload to Instagram, but they are not spending. They already have their Pixel phone in their pocket, which they pre-ordered at the first available opportunity, and online. Which means the only people who are likely to shop at these stores are those who are unaware of the Pixel brand. Yes, they might pass by a ‘Google Store’ and pop in and suddenly fall in love with the Pixel phone, but that is quite a specific outcome. Chances are, that like the Android faithful, they would swing in, look around and leave again without a purchase. No one who is unaware of the Pixel brand or even Android for that matter, is going to swing into a store and drop $800+ on a new smartphone. Again, it is just not reality. What is reality though, is partnering with already-established chains and distribution networks.
Which brings us full circle. For those that are complaining about Google’s Pixel marketing strategy - it is easy to complain. But the reality is that Google is trying to seriously create something here and do it as quickly as they can and in a realistic fashion. Which is a sensible and sound business plan. While that might not be quick enough for some people, to say they are not doing enough is not only unfair, but untrue. Google is trying harder than they ever have to market hardware and in reality, it does seem as though they have a very clear marketing strategy in place. It might not be what you or I consider to be a good strategy, but how many top-end smartphones have you or I brought to a market that is already saturated with choices and is being squeezed at the bottom-end by budget and foreign manufacturers, who offer high-performance devices at affordable and unbeatable prices? The smartphone manufacturers who are currently doing well, are those that take on a less orthodox and less financially-draining marketing approach. Yet, it seems (in spite of the money being spent by Google to market the Pixels) that in an industry which is being very tightly squeezed by manufacturers, people expect Google to spend even more money, time and effort. It just doesn't make any sense. It doesn't. What can help Google and Pixel though, is those who are aware, actively promoting and being positive about the Pixel brand - it is time to start supporting Google, Android and Pixel and not focusing so harshly on all the things that we perceive them to be doing wrong.