back to article Unpicking the Pixel puzzle: Why Google is struggling to impress

Some 15 years ago at a private function, I explained to a bewildered and grumpy Larry Page how the mobile phone business worked. Page was besotted with his new gadget, a Danger Hiptop, a soap-bar shaped QWERTY phone that ran Java, which miraculously squeezed all the useful things about the internet (the web, chat, email) onto …

Anonymous Coward

Conspiracy theory.

From a financial and technology viewpoint the whole Pixel thing doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

And the argument 'get the latest Android first' does not appear to be convincing many consumers to take the bait either. AND it's available from other brands through 'One'.

Add to that that Google, despite its market penetration and billions of dollars is not a consumer brand. It may be the premier goto place if you wish to delve into the particulars of sales and marketing, but as a 'consumer' brand (you know, the consumer you want to flog the phones to) it means zilch : it has no chique, no status, no sexy.

Als anyone to name 5 droid phone brands : they won't come up with Google. And I don't see Google actively developing the brand as an electronics poowerhouse either.

So there must be another reason why Google keeps pouring money into this. Are these phones equipped with special software running behind the scenes that collect invaluable information about other people, locations and situations, serving as sort of illicit 'forward observation points' for Foogle for other nefarious purpose ?

They've proven already they'll go to any lengths to gather the infromation they want. Even explicitly telling them 'no' doesn't work.

I'm very suspicious !

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

"And the argument 'get the latest Android first' does not appear to be convincing many consumers to take the bait either." - This may have been the case with the 1st Gen Pixel but I don't think its as relevant now that more devices will start supporting Project Treble

"And I don't see Google actively developing the brand as an electronics poowerhouse either." - Spending $1.1B acquiring HTC seems pretty active to me, although not sure how this will impact the future Pixel

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

"And the argument 'get the latest Android first' does not appear to be convincing many consumers to take the bait either. AND it's available from other brands through 'One'."

The above, for me, is the deciding factor on what phone I buy; well timely security patches at least. But as the major manufacturers insist on installing their bloated, and pretty much useless, "skins" onto Android this means they are not able deliver said security patches, this means that a Pixel is the only phone that will be fully up to date.

My sons Samsung S8 as an example is a month behind my Nexus 6P on security patches, and the only reason can be the time it takes them to make sure that their awful, and completely useless, "skin" is compatible.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

"The above, for me, is the deciding factor on what phone I buy"

That's fair. Personally, that is not something that I care about even a little.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

I can't help noticing that much of what some people fashionably deride as 'bloat' in manufacturer skins is what informs and inspires the next round of new features in Android. Without the constant innovation and differentiation of the manufacturer skins Android would have settled to a far more sedate and self-satisfied pace of change.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

Do you not carry out banking and/or tap & pay on your phone?

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

No, I don't. But my position wouldn't be any different if I did.

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FAIL

Re: Conspiracy theory.

>I can't help noticing that much of what some people fashionably deride as 'bloat' in manufacturer skins is what informs and inspires the next round of new features in Android. Without the constant innovation and differentiation of the manufacturer skins Android would have settled to a far more sedate and self-satisfied pace of change.

You say that as if it's a bad thing. There was nothing wrong with the original Android UI. One of the things I find frustrating about Android IS the mercurial UI that changes on every release. There is no benefit to it, and there are tons of downsides, like unnecessarily confusing the crap out of users.

People piss and moan about how 'boring' the iOS UI is. But you know what? It works. It's simple. And once you learn it, you arn't afraid that you have to relearn how to use your phone when you upgrade. That is a massive reason why Apple is still so popular despite their often questionable choices in hardware design.

I remember when I first used android. There was a back button, a home button, and a menu button. The icons looked corresponding to their function. Now? You have a square, a triangle, and a circle. I wanted to use Android, but apparently I got a playstation controller controller instead and it made the whole experience needlessly confusing.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

"One of the things I find frustrating about Android IS the mercurial UI that changes on every release."

I agree. Not just with Android, either, but with all "rapid release" software.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

People piss and moan about how 'boring' the iOS UI is.

That is not people that is reviewers - people who would be out of a job if phones remained in one place long enough for people to figure out what all the features actually did, and where the bloody setting they want has gone now!

However, experience with cars has taught us - if you don't want the brake pedal in a different place in each car, you need to legislate! (And quite possibly execute a few "libaturds" "pour encourager les autres").

Its the same reviewers who think it is a good idea to have notches, remove headphone jacks, and make it impossible to replace broken parts in a device that can barely survive for a year in a home environment. These are crimes against the environment and the reviewers are guilty of aiding and abetting - possibly incitement as well in some cases.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

That's interesting, I would have thought with their use, the security patches would be of paramount importance?

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Meh

Re: Conspiracy theory.

@Loud Speakers.. indeed.

It's the same reviewers who cry out in abject horror that device A is 1.2mm thicker than device B and immediately state that device A is shit and unusable as a result but then complain about battery capacity in the same review

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

"And the argument 'get the latest Android first' does not appear to be convincing many consumers to take the bait either. AND it's available from other brands through 'One'."

Add to that chez Google products are EOLd in no short order. 2 years of Android updates for a Nexus 5 from release (meaning about 15 months after I'd bought mine) and a mere further 10 months of security updates. Add to which there was no upgrade path as Google had gone down the shiny-shiny Pixel path at that point. Kind of like generic vs big brand headache pills, I'm personally not interested in a 30% markup to support a marketing department.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

My S8 is currently patched to 1st August running XEU firmware - they seem to be getting better at releasing patches. I ended up flashing my old S6 to unbranded BTU firmware because EE hadn't updated theirs for months.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

Yes, it's this sort of thing that is why I've come to regard reviews as being worthless. Instead, I look at specs, talk to real people who have experience with the device in question and, if possible, try the device out before I buy.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

Security patches are important, yes, but the problem is that you can't just get security patches. You have to get all the updates or none. And, since you can keep a device reasonably secure in ways aside from the OS itself, that means that I prefer to choose if and when I get a new version of the operating system.

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Re: Conspiracy theory.

What you write makes eminent sense. And has nothing to do with the business of selling phones.

Even with the recently increased emphasis on security and privacy, odds are that 99.99% of smartphones buyers don't care about such issues unless it affects them directly, no matter how much the makers tout such capabilities — so they don't.

Be happy that you're in the sensible 0.01%, but don't expect anyone to be able to sell phones a t a profit on that score alone. Nice camera, pretty case, Qi charging, stupid Animoji — those, mores the pity, sell fondletoys.

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What's the point...

.. in getting a phone based on a promise of constant updates if the phone has unfixed software bugs?

Issues with the LG-made OLED display on some Pixel units can't help.

Google are asking Samsung flagship money for the Pixel, but Samsung enjoy customer awareness (both good and meh), a 3.5mm jack and SD card slot. Samsung's displays are objectively very good - not the oversaturated pentile screens of old.

The Pixel algorithms can be side-loaded onto other handsets, including Samsung's.

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Re: What's the point...

They should have stuck to Nexus pricing and moved the brand forward with quality first, then switched to Pixel and a higher price point.

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Re: Going the way of Redmond....

You seem to be ignoring how successful Amazon's extremely intrusive speaker lines are.

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Re: Going the way of Redmond....

Android is on a hundred different cheapo phones and so is considered a low rent OS. How can you have a premium phone with a low rent OS?

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Anonymous Coward

Closing Down Sale....

Google has become such a contentious corp that its a turn-off to consumers in much the same way as Microsoft's dictatorial behavioral left the door open to Google in the anti-trust years.

Distrust has hurt Facebook too btw. Oculus sales are lower than what was expected vs competing VR. Zuck postponed his smart speaker range too.

Distrust and disdain for Google / Facebook / Microsoft runs deep. I predict moving into retail won't be a big earner for Google despite plundering HTC.

Don't get me wrong... Slurpy Smart Tech is selling ok in America overall, it just isn't doing as well elsewhere in the World... Cali's new privacy law (if it passes) will be problem for Silly 'con' Valley as well.

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Vanilla phone

Vanilla android is attractive (stares at Moto who, although not too much cruft added on my phone, installed bloody LinkedIn as a system app - wasting space unless I root) as is a guarantee of updates on The price is not.

Way back in the day I had a Nexus, which was good spec, had updates and I was generally happy with, but (importantly) it was significantly cheaper than the iPhone (i.e. was not at flagship price)

As the article says, low to mid range is where much interest is, Pixel phone at flagship prices is silly (I could get a decent laptop for flagship phone price) especially when its buggy (& has the famed Google (lack of) customer service

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Why buy?

That is my question. The only persuasive selling point is the updates, but as others have pointed out there is a conspicuous flaw in that proposition:

"Pay far too much for this second-rate gadget solely because its core systems may be so poor that you will need to receive constant fixes"

I'm not an Android hater by any means, but this implicit message is really not a good one.

I'm not a gadget lover either—I cannot imagine laying out more than £300/£400 for a versatile pocket computing and communications device (aka 'phone')—but I can understand the broad appeal of some of the flagship handsets: and it is very hard to see why anybody would choose the Google phone when for similar outlay they could have one of Samsung's latest, frankly fabulous ones.

But then, as yet others have said, this is mostly about monetising human lives, and Google's rapacious appetite for harvesting personal data has long since become a thoroughly obnoxious feature of the company that laughably coined "Don't Be Evil".

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Beta?

EVERYTHING at Google seems to be Beta till junked.

Android still feels like a Beta of Windows 3.0 but with tiles instead of Program Manager (and no decent File Manager unless you buy one).

The Pixel is a niche product aimed at rich Google fans.

Tesco sells plenty of decent Android smart phones at €100 to €200, pay as you go, only locked to carrier for 9 months. Some even have SD card slots and 3.5mm sockets.

The $500 to $1000+ phones are a waste of money.

If you want a really significantly better camera, you need a decent dedicated camera with a viewfinder. ANY smart phone is very limited on optical zoom, aperture, low light performance and ability to actually hold it while photographing.

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Re: Beta?

If Google was serious about its phones then it should give every employee one and insist they use it, and it alone. Then enough internal feedback might just get the bugs fixed...

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Re: Beta?

As a Google employee - bollocks to that. I will use my iPhone, thank you.

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Re: Beta?

We had a boss who described this as eating your own dog food. It does make a difference if the management, marketing and engineering teams have to use their own product.

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Re: Beta?

You should be burned as a heretic and a witch (or warlock depending on your sensitivities / gender fluidities) :) Samsung s9+ is far superior.

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Re: Beta?

I'd wait for the reviews of the latest Pixel and iPhone cameras and decide whether you want to continue to make the assertions in the last paragraph.

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Anonymous Coward

Google's data snaffling actively puts me off going near any of their products. I've got 'droid tablets but they's all set up with 'burner' google accounts. Their constant moaning for other access, and payment card details (to 'complete' some setup is very annoying).

I'd like to consider a P20 Pro for the camera now the prices are coming down but the Google element is a negative. I think I'd be happier with the Chinese snaffling data since I at least know they're not going to bombard me with adverts with it. Nation state spying I can live with.

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LDS
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"the experience is entirely geared around data acquisition"

That's incidentally why photos are so good, especially portraits - it's a side effect of the data hoarding operation, to extract useful information from photos, you have to improve their quality, especially when those taking photos are not that good at it.

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Phone vendor cruft isn't as crufty as it used to be...

... thus narrowing the gap between a stock Android phone and a vendor-customised one.

Discuss!

(There's always been some variation: Sony have been close enough to stock to not bother changing, Huaweii keeps reverting to its own launcher if you install one of your own choice)

Contrary to some belief, it's not vendor cruft that is the chief cause of slow phone updates, either. And with Oreo, more hurdles to timely updates have hopefully been removed.

Now that most phones are sold with ample storage, pre-installed apps consume a far smaller percentage of storage than in the dark old 4GB days.

So, there's a few reasons why a Google Android phone isn't as highly desirable as it was just a few years back in the early Nexus days.

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the main problem with the Pixel 2/3 etc.

is that it's literally an iPhone. If you're motto is "be together, not the same" then don't fucking rip off the direct competition, with zero shame.

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Re: the main problem with the Pixel 2/3 etc.

And the Iphone is literally an android phone.

Large phones? Android first.

Fingerprint sensor? Android first. (Motorola Atrix)

Notch? Android first (Essential Phone)

Facial unlock? Android first (2011 Galaxy Nexus)

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Anonymous Coward

What Google knows

It should be clear by now that Google knows almost everything about technology and almost nothing about people.

Perhaps one of the reasons it is so obsessed with collecting data about all of us is that it really doesn't *understand* humans, but it hopes that with enough data points and processing power, it can find patterns to predict us.

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Anonymous Coward

(whispers) Google aren't a very good product company ...

and Apple are.

Googles idea of "marketing" is clearly "This is what we sell. Now buy it.Don't like <feature> ? Tough. That's how we do it."

They could get away with it early doors, because they had no competition (Worstall used to note this).

But now they are a more mature organisation, they can't get away with pushing their vision of the future onto the masses. The techheads, yes. The cool kids, yes. But granny gumdrops ? No.

A trawl on Googles on user forums would confirm this. There are quirks and oddities which it seems the entire world has picked up on that are still there.

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Def
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Re: (whispers) Google aren't a very good product company ...

If you look at their track record of failed projects/products, they're not a very good at anything company.

The only thing they (currently) have going in their favour is a almost bottomless money pit they can throw behind anything they like. Until the team responsible gets bored, the key people are poached by a competitor, or someone higher up has a "better" idea.

Take away their money pit and Google would be a rather mediocre software company that would more than likely disappear into obscurity within a couple of years.

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Re: (whispers) Google aren't a very good product company ...

Google aren't a very good product company

You probably want to change that to hardware company or consumer business.

I think Google often does things for reasons other than we anticipate. It clearly isn't very interested in becoming another Apple and the pricing also shows that it's not following Amazon's loss-leader approach. The role of the Google-branded hardware has changed over the years but might now be coming to an end. Initially it served as an incentive for manufacturers to produce Android phones with some kind of guaranteed volume, more recently it's become a chance to showcase newer features. But with the betas becoming open to other manufacturers this has less relevance. My guess is that we won't be seeing many more of them. Android is established and most Android's run at least one of Google's data-grabbing services.

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Re: (whispers) Google aren't a very good product company ...

"Googles idea of "marketing" is clearly "This is what we sell. Now buy it.Don't like <feature> ? Tough. That's how we do it."

And that makes them different from Apple in that...?

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Re: (whispers) Google aren't a very good product company ...

"A trawl on Googles on user forums would confirm this"

True! It's rather amazing how poorly users who have complaints are treated there.

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Re: And that makes them different from Apple in that...?

They're different in that people want to buy from Apple. Desire for Google products, as pointed out in some length in the article you're commenting on, is not really there.

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Re: And that makes them different from Apple in that...?

And that relates to "This is what we sell. Now buy it.Don't like <feature> ? Tough. That's how we do it." in that ...?

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Meh

Re: (whispers) Google aren't a very good product company ...

it's equally fair to say...

"Apples idea of "marketing" is clearly "This is what we sell. Now buy it.Don't like <feature> ? Tough. That's how we do it.""

So I don't think your point stands. The reality is that people associate Google with "free" (as in beer) and being asked to pay a grand on a phone doesn't make sense to them.

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"The returns procedure is notorious."

That's surprising - I may have been lucky but when my Pixel broke I called Google and had a new phone the next day.

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Trollface

Thanks to telemetry, they knew you needed a new phone the week before.

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Anonymous Coward

Not just you , I sent off my 32Gig XL, duff microphone and a few days later got a 128 Gig back

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Pixel eaten alive

Shipped my Bootloop Pixel to Google NY for repair, replacement quess what the have eaten my chocolate cookie Pixel alive and never returned my Pixel or refund.. I will be a fruit loving person from now on Google

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The Pixel's are good handsets, but they are just too expensive for what you get. For Google to kill the Nexus line then jump right in at the premium end of the market with HTC made devices was high risk and moderate madness. I still feel that Google should have kept Nexus at the mid-range (which were doing well, and had brand recognition), then start gently with the Pixel line, but maybe at the £5-600 mark and not >£700. The Pixels have two things going for them - the camera and the instant updates straight from Google, but they don't really have any other differentiators.

Also, there's no way I'd buy any phone with a notch - whatever it is. Just plain ugly.

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