back to article Four reasons Pixel turns flagship Android mobe makers into roadkill

This year’s “Google phones” – now rebranded as Pixel – are just the latest step in Google seizing control of Android – and the biggest so far. If this process is like cooking the proverbial frog, then Google just turned up the heat so quickly, the OEMs cannot help but notice. “There's more and more resemblance to Microsoft in …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Lots of conjectures

    Lots of conjectures, little substance and obligatory "Fear the Google by Andrew (tm)". While Google should be feared, it should be for real reasons, not just for everything it does. IMHO the "blanket assault" on the household covering everything from A-Z is much more to be feared of than a new phone.

    So, on the Pixel:

    1. In terms of feature and spec Pixel lags (as expected from an HTC phone) behind Sony, Huawei and Samsung. Camera is worse, build is worse, waterproofing is worse, various minor bits and bobs are also worse. While a nice upper bracket phone it _DOES_ _NOT_ stand up out of the crowd.

    2. The "latest OS" in terms of features has hit diminishing returns somewhere around Android 4.x. From 5.x the OS level features and internal improvements are all in the diminishing returns twilight zone. So even if Pixel is one major version ahead of the OEMs it provides extremely little in terms of a consumer visible USP.

    3. Google till this day has not learned how to work with operators. Even Apple learned this over time (and got down from its initial iPhone 1 and 2 high perch). So expecting a roaring applause welcome in retail outside the US is least likely (especially if Google continues to insist on no customization).

    This is a phone built to address US market and to US market reqs. US mobile market is a strange beast - it has a disproportional (compared to the rest of the world) Apple dominance with Samsung being close second. All other makers need not apply. It is almost like the USA political system - always only two options. Red or Blue. No other choices if these are a choice in the first place.

    Compared to that, the rest of the world has significantly lower Apple market share, higher tier 2 Android market share with significant brand loyalty in the upper mid-range and top bracket segment most of which are sold through operator retail. The Pixels does not do anything to try to break that.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Lots of conjectures

      Not so much "conjecture": there are four things about the Pixel model that are different from the old Nexus model - all I do is list 'em.

      "Fear the Google by Andrew (tm)"

      But I don't see anything to "fear" from Pixel. The price ensures it will have next to no impact. Samsung's all round package is far superior - especially the imaging. And given how little value Google's home tat adds to a home, I can't see that having a big impact either.

      Otherwise, totally spot on. (No I am not being sarcastic - you pack in points other people missed).

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Lots of conjectures

        And given how little value Google's home tat adds to a home, I can't see that having a big impact either.

        Err... It does not add value for YOU. The customer. It adds significant value to the buyer of the real products which are:

        1. Your profile (anyway you like to define that).

        2. The APIs to do things to you, your home, etc. Usually leveraging the profile to increase the profile sales.

        From that perspective, Google will still break even or be in profit if it _GAVE_ you that tat and paid you to take it as it is a case of "you are not the customer, you are the product".

        It also cements its foothold in the home and makes it unassailable by anything short of Eu/FTC "mandatory breakup" level intervention. Same as Android practically concreted its position in search to a level where it cannot be dislodged by anything short of a nuclear bunker buster.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Lots of conjectures

          @Voland's right hand: "Usually leveraging the profile"

          Did you get an honors degree in management doubletwatspeak?

          Yours, Mr W. Anchor

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lots of conjectures

        You're right, Samsung is striving to add better features. They have the first phone you can light a cigar with.

      3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Lots of conjectures

        If the Pixel phone product range isn't a serious contender then why does the article describe the other Android phones as "roadkill"? Editors I suppose. They find a cute picture and staple-gun it onto a poor innocent story. And we're lucky I suppose that it wasn't "Super Pixel goes cladistic, Samsung is explodious". (Yes, some of those words are not appropriate or are not actual words; so?)

        Since Android's weak points are (1) lots of hacks into the Android system and (2) updates late or never for many phones, especially with network-specific software, a phone that can be updated promptly is a good thing to have for people who are aware of the issue - if it lives up to that spiel.

        My phone is an Android tablet that Samsung now seems to deny making although I am quite confident that they did, and I hope it's too old to be hacked, or at least too obscure. On the other hand it won't run Firefox.

      4. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Lots of conjectures

        Yes, it's at Apple prices without the Apple reality distortion.

        Google's home stuff is totally irrelevant.

        At least El Reg isn't captured by Big Companies. The UK media Eulogising every Apple release (though iPhone 7 not so much) and now lauding Amazon's Echo as "innovative" and "great". How much is Amazon paying them?

    2. 2460 Something

      Re: Lots of conjectures

      Compared to that, the rest of the world has significantly lower Apple market share, higher tier 2 Android market share with significant brand loyalty in the upper mid-range and top bracket segment most of which are sold through operator retail. The Pixels does not do anything to try to break that.

      Maybe not this year but to me it is the start of a slippery slope. 3rd parties have become completely reliant on the Android OS, Google is targeting the high end market, over the next few iterations they will increase the handset to match and be better. Others really need to push on any USP's that they have to compete directly with Google.

      Realistically there is only one choice for most consumers and that is sticking to IOS or Android because of application investment. On Android, Yes, there is brand loyalty to some extent but that becomes more blurred when the phones become increasingly similar in their stats.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: Lots of conjectures

        Maybe not this year but to me it is the start of a slippery slope.

        ie. more conjecture…

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lots of conjectures

      > Camera is worse

      Camera images are much, much better than any other smartphone at the moment.

      https://www.dxomark.com/Mobiles/Pixel-smartphone-camera-review-At-the-top

      >So even if Pixel is one major version ahead of the OEMs

      Two versions ahead currently.

      >This is a phone built to address US market .

      Not so, China is as much a target IMHO.

    4. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: Lots of conjectures

      Android 6 (Marshmallow) is the key version really, in terms of diminishing returns, as that allows user control over what "rights" an app has, whereas with 4, 5 you could either accept the excessive permissions an app wanted or choose not to install it, with 6 you can install and then not allow permissions you do not like.

      1. DainB Bronze badge

        Re: Lots of conjectures

        China is a market for $1200 Android phone ?

        Yeah right.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lots of conjectures

        They have a long road to travel to beat Xiaomi...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's the age old problem...

    ...of East Asian firms failing to develop their own operating systems.

    The likes of Samsung should've been investing their profits all these years in that direction.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: It's the age old problem...

      Tizen?

      They just didn't have the balls to launch it. They already had a Samsung duplicate for every Google app, a Samsung app store, and could have plumbed in apk compatibility.

    2. Avatar of They
      Thumb Up

      Re: It's the age old problem...

      Doesn't Samsung have Tizan? Or whatever their version of Android is called, seems to me like the perfect opportunity to roll that out. :)

    3. IfYouInsist

      Re: It's the age old problem...

      LG have invested in webOS, Samsung pushed Tizen for a while... but yeah, they seem to lack both stamina and charisma to win over app developers. Android has a massive network effect by now.

    4. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: It's the age old problem...

      You mean like tizen?

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: It's the age old problem...

        The joys of moderation.

        Tizen?

        Tizen?

        Tizen.

        Tizen?

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: It's the age old problem...

          >But I don't see anything to "fear" from Pixel. The price ensures it will have next to no impact. Samsung's all round package is far superior - especially the imaging.

          Eh?

          "With an overall DxOMark Mobile score of 89, pixel, the latest Google smartphone is the highest-rated smartphone camera we have ever tested."

          - https://www.dxomark.com/Mobiles/Pixel-smartphone-camera-review-At-the-top

          "Its image quality scores are impressive across the board, but it is particularly strong in providing a very high level of detail from its 12.3MP camera, with relatively low levels of noise for every tested lighting condition. It also provides accurate exposures with very good contrast and white balance, as well as fast autofocus.

          Not that I'm too fussed - many smartphones will take 'good enough' pictures, and if I was that fussed about image quality I'd use a dedicated camera.

        2. ThomH Silver badge

          Re: It's the age old problem...

          Obligatory Tizen link. I have no firsthand experience, but Bada was certainly oddball. Two-step construction, custom containers rather than the std:: lot, and probably more that I've forgotten.

        3. x 7

          Re: It's the age old problem...

          Tizen?

          isn't that a drink?

        4. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: It's the age old problem...

          The joys of moderation.

          Tizen?

          Isn't Tizen what me mam used to buy for us kids on Friday night from the fish and chippie? These days I've got beer, but I do miss the mushy peas...

    5. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: It's the age old problem...

      Unfortunately in all these years what Samsung have comprehensively demonstrated is a total and utter inability to write software that on any reasonable measure is usable, good, stable or in a good spot on any other positive outcome measure.

    6. Timo

      Re: It's the age old problem...

      This is where I thought Microsoft would be around to catch the OEMs running away from Google. At the time of Winphone 7 and 8.1 they *were* slightly less evil than Google.

      Now is pretty bad timing and Microsoft is going to miss this window of opportunity. Their phone OS is having a lie-down, and they're shooting themselves in the foot with W10.

  3. Wiltshire

    And the nominations for alternatives are.....

  4. DougS Silver badge

    People have been saying this would happen for years

    Ever since they bought Motorola their intentions were clear. I think they backed off out of fear at the time, because Samsung was making noise about building Tizen phones, and Android wasn't quite as established in the market as it is now.

    I wonder if Samsung has kept a skunkworks project going for Tizen phones? I wouldn't be shocked to see that start coming up again, but they probably aren't big enough to go it alone. If they could get a few other big players to throw in with them on a new OS maybe they'd have a chance, but I suspect that infighting among the players would prevent such cooperation.

    The Note 7 PR disaster couldn't come at a worse time for them, they really handed Google a perfect storm launch scenario when it would have otherwise been buried in the news beneath stories about the Note 7's success.

    1. Timmy B Silver badge

      I'd really like to see WP 10 resurrect as an alternative. A few changes - a bit more transparency on data use - a few tweaks here and there - some enterprise level security and they could actually make it work.

    2. Tom 38 Silver badge

      OnePlus 3. Does everything a Pixel does, but has dual SIM, SD card support, and only costs £329 quid instead of £699. It's a shame the battery isn't replaceable :(

      1. Timmy B Silver badge

        Except OnePlus are being all a bit daft with firmware updates. Not that they are poor - I'm running the community preview on my OP3 and it's a fine version of android. But it's that - a version of android - that limits the speed of updates.

      2. jimborae

        Dear Tom, please can you tell me where I can find the SD card slot on my OnePlus 3, I look and I look but I can't see it anywhere. Do I need to return as they seem to have forgotten to put it in mine when it was made? :) Other than that and the cloud over future updates it's been a truly great phone for the money and I certainly won't be replacing it with a hugely overpriced Pixel

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: People have been saying this would happen for years

      Ever since they bought Motorola their intentions were clear.

      They weren't, at least to me they weren't. And the price they paid seem to reflect this. Motorola's patent library was bought as a defence against possible future lawsuits and the manufacturing was then flipped to Lenovo.

      The Note 7 hasn't been good for Samsung but it doesn't seem to have as bad as many feared: most people are dutifully replacing the phones with like for like because they, er, like what the phone gives them. By and large Samsung has handled the SNAFU in an exemplary manner and is moving on to the next product.

      The big issue for all makers is that the refresh cycle is slowing as people see increasingly less benefit in buying the latest model. Google's biggest play is betting on increased adoption of its services: and I think that they have a pretty compelling offer with the assistant which will benefit from its own network effect as it is installed on more and more of our devices.

      1. Law

        Re: People have been saying this would happen for years

        "By and large Samsung has handled the SNAFU in an exemplary manner and is moving on to the next product"

        I was very surprised and impressed with how quickly they admitted the problem and issued a recall.

        I think years of manufacturers claiming user error, holding it wrong, in the wrong pocket, or just "imagining it" has conditioned us to expect a battle with them if something does go wrong. Certainly having to fight them to be taken serious on a common issue has been my experience with Sony, Google (Nexus issues) and OnePlus in the recent past.

      2. DougS Silver badge

        Re: People have been saying this would happen for years

        Buying patents would be necessary if they were going to start making their own phones, instead of having someone who has their own patents do it for them like Nexus and this first gen Pixel. If they want to have Foxconn or the like make phones for them down the road, they will need patents as a defense as they could potentially be sued by OEMs Samsung (that would only be an option for those OEMs who decided to move on from Android, of course, but Google would have to be prepared for that possibility)

        As for the Note 7, it remains to be seen if that replacement Note 7 that caught fire on the plane was a one off or that happens to more of them. There are a fair number of reports of people with replacement Note 7s that run very hot and/or drain the battery very quickly, so even if the newsworthy problems are behind them they may still leave in their wake a lot of dissatisfied Samsung customers looking to move on and considering Pixel thanks to its timely introduction.

    4. Christopher Rogers

      Re: People have been saying this would happen for years

      Tizen 3.0 is aimed at other devices like wearables and TVs and IoT things because it didn't compete against IOS/Android.

      I think if Samsung make a success of the platform in these areas, they will revisit the mobile phone market and have a stronger position from which to compete.

    5. Blank Reg

      BB10

      I know it's old fashioned but I actually use my phone to communicate, not take duck face selfies in front of a bathroom mirror. And as a communication device, Blackberry is hands down the best there is right now. I have many phones at my disposal but still use my Z30 as my primary device. They have ported the BB Hub to Android but it's not fully integrated as it is on BB10. Maybe the Android devices from Blackberry are better integrated, I've not tried them yet.

    6. Hans 1 Silver badge

      Re: People have been saying this would happen for years

      >, but they probably aren't big enough to go it alone

      One app dev I was talking to claimed: 75% Adroid apps his clients sell are for Samsung devices - not so sure - I know nothing, that was just a dev talking while he was driving me around ....

    7. Grunchy

      I AM STILL RUNNING MAEMO OMG.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        I AM STILL RUNNING MAEMO OMG.

        Same here. N900 with community testing.

  5. 2460 Something
    Terminator

    Been on the horizon for a while

    In reality google has never been about sharing profits it was all about limiting liability whilst they developed and matured their mobile platform. Now they are at the point where they no longer have to worry about appeasing 3rd party manufacturers because the platform is too big. Google uses this same process across the board. When they bring something new out they are happy to have 3rd party affiliates, once it is to the point of no return they make it nigh impossible for 3rd parties to compete and grab all the profits. Rinse repeat.

    Welcome to your new world order...

  6. Ben Rose
    Megaphone

    Planned to buy...but didn't.

    I recently bought a new tablet to replace my ageing (but surprisingly long lived) Tesco HUDL. Having looked at all price point, in the end I went Pixel C. It offered everything. Fast octocore CPU and USB-C charging, great screen with market leading screen resolution and amazing battery life. Not cheap but ticket every box in a big way - I even went for the 64GB model as I knew I'd do more stuff on it.

    I was naturally quite excited when I heard a Pixel phone was on the way. I've always like the idea of Nexus and always having the latest Android stuff, but the phone designs never floated my boat. I've been with Android since V1 and my current Samsung S5 is getting long in the tooth. I dreamed of a phone that impressed my like my Pixel C tablet had. It didn't.

    I learned about exciting functions like the Google assistant but then realised it wouldn't be available on my matching tablet. It wasn't even available on those "always up to date" Nexus handsets. Suddenly features are exclusive to Pixel, a phone which is about double the price of a similar spec Oneplus 3.

    If Google refuse to update their Pixel branded tablet, which is still on sale, what hope do we have that Pixel Phone will support Pixel 2 features when that gets released in a couple of years? Not only do Google want us to pay Apple like prices for a handset, they also want us to accept built in redundancy as our devices get older.

    That's not what Android owners do. We keep applying updates and, when they stop coming, we start installing custom ROMs. Sure, suppliers may not make much money from that model, but we do provide repeat business.

    It started to hurt when Samsung removed the SD card slot (which makes life much easier for juggling custom ROMs) and now I fear that the geeks are struggling for something to buy. I know several people who were poised to buy the Pixel phone but didn't. Rumoured sales numbers in the UK confirm we aren't alone.

    I'm now looking at a Oneplus 3, albeit without an SD card slot, but it doesn't run Android N yet which would be a bit of a downgrade for many to go back to Marshmallow. Once it starts shipping with Nougat I feel Oneplus will have an order book that HTC can only dream of.

    1. Timmy B Silver badge

      Re: Planned to buy...but didn't.

      "I'm now looking at a Oneplus 3, albeit without an SD card slot, but it doesn't run Android N yet which would be a bit of a downgrade for many to go back to Marshmallow. Once it starts shipping with Nougat I feel Oneplus will have an order book that HTC can only dream of."

      I have a OP3 and I think it's possibly my favourite android phone yet. And I've not come close to filling the 64 gig it ships with.

  7. jillesvangurp

    I have a nexus 6p. If you strip away all the marketing hype, basically the pixel is a slightly better version of that; nothing fancy and not nearly enough for me to consider upgrading. It's evolutionary design. It's decent phone but nothing special in terms of hardware.

    They fixed the distribution issues they had by offering the phone in more channels than just Google's playstore. That's not revolutionary, it's just what you need to do to sell phones. I'd say Google has less to negotiate with than say Apple had when it introduced the iphone.

    This does create a problem for vendors in the sense that Google just raised the bar for shipping a decent flag ship product; which as it turns out is not just hardware but also software.

    The real issue here is the broken way of distributing software updates in the Android OEM world. The reason I have a nexus is exactly this. The OEM as a gatekeeper for critical security fixes has proven a disaster. They can't be bothered, ever, to ship anything in a timely fashion. Google bypasses both OEMs and operators and ships software updates directly. Franky, anything else is hugely irresponsible these days. I'm sort of waiting for the lawsuits over phones that were hacked because some vendor cock blocked a critical security update. I'd say you'd have a pretty strong case filing for damages if you got hacked this way.

    Google leapfrogging OEMs with proprietary software serves a clear goal: to solve this problem. With the pixel phones, the os, add ons, and associated updates come straight from google. There is no licensed distribution that vendors get to tweak. Any and all vendor tweaks are deployed via the playstore.

    The real deal is going to be the VR ecosystem that Google is building on top of the Pixel. This is a Google exclusive and Google is planning to control the software stack around it end to end. This is not going to show up in some craptastic vendor mutilated version of Android, ever. Google seems to be announcing that is done supporting that.

    So, what comes next is obvious: they are going to 'allow' OEMs to do the same and ship their custom crapware via the app store only where Google gets to review it and act as a gatekeeper. Most OEMs won't have a choice and probably this is going to end up being hugely better for end users.

    Relying on HTC for the pilot product makes total sense here since they were dead in the water and probably had no other option than to play by Google's rules. Huawei declined to do so and all but shut down its US presence after essentially failing to roll out its own high end line there. So, they'll end up looking rather silly. All these vendors are talking about "adding value" but the reality is that they all are stuck peddling rather dubious software value on top of generic and outdated android. Their real added value is in the hardware but without the full software value straight from google it is always going to feel like a second rate thing.

    The real question is if Samsung will buy into this and if not what will happen to them. My guess is they are far from eager to hand control over to Google. They have their own alternatives for ai, wearable tech, vr, etc. They also have Tizen. So far that has been reserved for the low-end and non phone devices. My guess is that we could be seeing a highend Tizen device soonish. Samsung has always been good at doing multiple things and historically has also bought into other ecosystems when it suited them (e.g. windows ce, windows phone, even Symbian I believe). So, I wouldn't be surprised to see them doing both just to see which one wins in the market.

    1. Groklawzombie@mailinator.com

      New Andromeda (Android + Chrome) for the next google phone? Android for the OEM's

      hmmm interesting - if they are going all in a clear differentiator would be their own superior google OS for the phone.

  8. ilmari

    I wonder if pixel-android will eventually have "must have" features, and if at that point Google will license it to OEMs with stricter agreements to keep crapware out and keep devices updated..

  9. James 51 Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    There's always BB10 or Jolla. Don't Fairphone have their own OS too? Firefox OS might make a come back.

    1. hellsatan

      Be interesting to see how how well the Turing phone does when they manage to wrestle a few extra features into Sailfish OS... Looks promising but its being developed on a shoestring. Pretty close to full android app support too

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ah ha ha, ha ha ha! Oh wait, you're serious... Let me laugh even harder HA HA HAHA!

  10. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Google 'Pixel'

    And after the adverts and news, the first 'Pixel' is a tablet by Google. Then it goes onto the phones, notably because all the tech sites are talking about it.

    Bing 'Pixel' and they're only on the first page due to adverts.

    Both talk alot about a pixel as in a dot on a screen. Not much thought went into the name from Google's marketing department if it is not recognisable and unique. Even the iPhone has 'Pixel' branded stylii.

    Should have stayed with Nexus as a brand because why would a wannabe poser buy into a brand with a limited shelf life.

    Oh, and if this is the cost of 'doing it yourself', they should have asked for help and kept the price low !!!

  11. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Commodification is the real threat

    The ASP for phones has been falling for a while and will continue to do so. This is what is causing manufacturers the biggest problems. Samsung saw this coming a while back and built the relevant product stack from bargain to boutique so that the brand would still matter.

    You can now get pretty compelling phones for around $/€/£ 100 and their value for money is only going to improve.

    1. Grunchy

      Re: Commodification is the real threat

      Commodification is the future!

      The real money is providing what the people want, and that's value.

      Google went waaaaay the wrong way with Pixel, huge mistake. The only reason people choose not to buy Apple is there is better value elsewhere, specifically Android.

      To position Pixel as equivalent to Apple, and in fact equal to Apple, ohmiglob that's a massive mistake. This is no different than the Microsoft store aping the Apple store, neither of which I do any business at whatsoever, incidentally - poor value.

      Whatevs. It's not really a mistake since Android still exists, but Pixel is going to wind up as a poorly conceived market experiment that failed.

  12. PassiveSmoking

    Apple had the right strategy

    The simple fact of the matter is that OEMs make Android insecure. So long as they don't see it in their best interest to get Android patches out in a timely manner to any of their devices that are actually capable of running it, they will leave huge swathes of the Android using public vulnerable to known CVEs. They've got to go. Apple's iron grip on its devices means that devices as old as the iPhone 4S still get updated until recently.

    The other big problem for Android security is dodgy apps getting into the Android Play store, or incompetently written ones that overrequest security permissions which some other malicious software can then subsequently exploit. Expect a crackdown in Google Play soon.

    Apple basically had the right strategy from the get go when it comes to devices such as phones and tablets, and Google have come to the conclusion that their strategy needs to be more like Apple's.

  13. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Wither Vodafone, EE, O2 ... ?

    So where does this leave the networks ?

    Is this a sign that the market is moving towards network-agnostic phones ?

    Has Google got the clout - and infrastructure - to bypass the vested interests ?

    My memory of the path that led us here is that Google was busy adding serious functionality to Android that was reaching fuck all punters because the networks weren't pushing upgrades ?

    Has anything changed ?

  14. timrichardson

    Google likes to cut out the middle man? Since when? It's entire business model is based on triangular relationships: search is bringing visitors to advertisers, Android been 100% partner-based since it's beginning.

    It very much remains to be seen if the Pixel phones will be any more successful than the Pixel laptops. I give them h a 20% chance of surviving four years. Launching high end phones into a saturated market with no distribution experience, with enormous capacity pressure from manufacturers who can make a lot more phones they can sell, and one of the weaker OEMs who may have been expected to drop out, helping over capacity, has in fact just been thrown a lifeline. This won't even rate in India and SE Asia, and something so cloud dependent as Google's added-value software won't even launch in China. It seems like madness.

  15. Static Cat

    Google's disdain for the world outside of the USA, to be fair them most tech companies seem to have this issue, and the mad pricing means that sadly this Pixel phone will gain very little traction. Shot in the foot from Google really.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What did the manufacturers expect?

    Google want Android to be a uniform experience, where the controls for all phones are in the same place, your applications work on any Android device, and your device will be up to date and secure. This is all about making their mobile OS provide a good experience and look polished.

    Manufacturers (and network providers) want to lock you in to their services. To do this they bundle their own customised UIs, their own "special" apps, and their own app stores into the ROMs they push out on the devices they sell. They also don't put too much priority on providing software patches - it's better for them if they can get you to buy a new phone rather than keep your old one going.

    The clash between these two sets of competing priorities has led to the memes of "Android is insecure" and "Android is fragmented", both of which are damaging to the google brand. So is it any wonder that google keeps coming up with schemes (Nexus, Silver and now Pixel) to try and end this cycle?

    I remain unconvinced that Google actually want to make hardware manufacture a key part of their business. They're just doing what they feel they have to in order to try and unify Android and put it on a par with IOS in people's minds. This is what Pixel is really all about. Same price as the iPhone, same level of build quality, same spec (they don't need to beat any better specced Android flagships here, just stay level with Apple). And the concierge button is trying to out-apple apple; make it so that the thing "just works" even better than the fruitphone does. The only difference with IOS is that there isn't a lower-priced "nearly as good" option (no, the 5c didn't really count, nor does buying last year's model).

    The pixel may be too expensive for my taste but I'm not the target audience for this - I'll keep using my regularly-updated and basically stock Android OnePlus and google will be quite happy with that. This is aimed at the people who just want to get a flagship android that "just works". Sure, it's an expensive phone, but it's really not all that much more than the flagships from Samsung, HTC etc. which would be the usual alternatives. The type of consumers that go for flagship androids tend to buy the phone and airtime as a bundle, so any price difference will also be spread over the monthly payments - it's going to be negligible. So yes, it's collateral damage for these other manufacturers, but really it's just normal business - they have to do better than what they're currently offering if they want to continue making higher margins than the budget manufacturers.

    The only aspect of the Pixel which surprised me is the exclusive Android features bit... v7.1 vs 7.0 for everyone else. That really does go against the grain of making the Android experience the same everywhere, and stands apart from the two previous attempts (Nexus and Silver). It'll be worth keeping track of whether this a temporary move to aid the marketing of their new device or a permanent feature of Android releases in future - first class Android from Google and standard class from everyone else.

    For me, the real question over whether the pixel will make a big difference in the marketplace is whether the networks take it up. I think this time they might; I've noticed a shift in handset pricing on contracts so that network subsidies of new phones are basically non-existent now, and SIM-only contracts are more and more common. They're starting to concede to just being the airtime provider, with any over-the top service being made available as an opt-in, not as something that's intrinsically bundled with the hardware. With that mindset they may well be happy to take a punt on offering the pixel themselves - getting the retail cut of the handset price is better than the zero (on hardware) that they get from yet another SIM-only contract sale.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can any one suggest

    a sensible reason to change from my Sammy S3?

  18. I am the liquor
    Gimp

    Forget the concierge buttons and whatnot. Wouldn't the one killer feature, that would instantly crush the competition, be to guarantee prompt security patches for a minimum of 5 years?

    Or am I being too much of a Register reader?

  19. Milton Silver badge

    Who will buy a Pixel phone?

    Given that it's absurdly overpriced for its hardware, and in truth just offers a bunch of tedious "assistance" that most people with functioning brains don't need, and that you can buy excellent phones that do everything you can reasonably expect for less than a third of the price ... *plus* you get no SD slot ... why would anyone choose a Pixel phone? I just cannot understand why you'd waste the money.

    I already have a secure rugged phone running a hardened Android and never had to put up with the versions offered by mainstream hardware manufacturers.

    But, given a decent mid-range Samsung recently, I thought I'd take a look and was horrified by the sludge of useless bloatware and overblown "features". Nothing to lose, so I poked about and installed CyanogenMod, a few customisations and extra security enhancements, so now it's faster, cleaner, more flexible, more responsive and I wonder—why wasn't Android like this in the first place?

    As others have hinted, perhaps the problem is that while a phone is indeed a small computer, it is small and limited by its input methods and display size, meaning its development and evolution are limited. Maybe, as every manufacturer finds itself desperately trying to add basically pointless super-duper features—what next? four cameras?—and hyping largely unnecessary incremental "improvements", the truth is we don't need phones costing $800 and especially don't need to replace them every year. A decent $200 phone with a secure bloat-free OS, removable battery, SD slot and a dozen apps will last for ages and does everything you need.

    Of course, that means manufactuers can't screw even more money out of you, and Google and Apple can't lock you into their ecosystem ... cue, howls of outrage.

    1. IsJustabloke Silver badge

      This....

      "Or am I being too much of a Register reader?"

      Most people do not give that sort of stuff a second thought, reg readers represent a very small proportion of the phone buying/renting public, same goes for all those commentards that bang on about "rooting" and sticking "fluffy_bunny2.6" on it

      1. Nelbert Noggins
        Trollface

        Re: This....

        "fluffy_bunny2.6" sounds a good choice... will it work on my Priv? ;)

      2. smot

        Re: This....

        Hey, "fluffy_bunny2.6"? I'm still using "fluffy_bunny2.5". What improvements are they? Is it worth upgrading?

    2. Dr. Ellen
      Pint

      Re: Can any one suggest

      Fortunately, I do not give a vulture's arse about Latest and Greatest. Let others bleed on the edge; I'm for simple, reliable, and affordable.

      1. ROC

        Re: Can any one suggest

        @Dr Ellen: That is why I switched, after several years on Androids, to Windows Phone 8.1 on a Lumia 640 (70 USD, then 30 USD for a backup) after seeing how easy it was to get my wife up to speed on one for her first smart phone upgrade from feature phones. And that is why I have NOT switched to WP 10...

    3. Rainer

      Re: Who will buy a Pixel phone?

      A former co-worker always had the latest iPhone (with the most memory). But that is rare. I believe most people hang to their iPhone (which I assume you mean with 800$ phone) longer - some probably much longer (I'm still on the 4S, partly because until recently there were no "small" iPhones anymore with decent specs).

      It's actually the improved camera of a newer iPhone that makes me want to buy one. The rest of the features - I hardly care because I have no use-case for them.

      But I also don't need an SD-card slot or a removable battery. Never missed that on any iPhone. Had a removable battery on the previous non-iPhone phone and actually bought a replacement-battery but never bothered using it.

    4. Groklawzombie@mailinator.com

      ppl who want brand security and ppl who want uptodate sec and trust google?

      I have the nexus 6p, very nice thank you. And this does not look like a better phone, no stereo speakers? what? really expensive.

      But its a Google version one product... maybe a version 2 product (Nexus range version 1?).

      So... they are probably feeling their way and not expecting too may sales. The next one, the one with an andromeda OS may be the one to look at. The first Chromebooks where a work in progress, they got better.

      That said not sure if this Apple business model will work for Google.

      On the security side no phone is totally secure, but some are much safer than others. It really depends on who you have after you. Run of the mill threats from criminals? Then Google supplying your OS and patches will do the job 99.999% of the time, as long as the user keeps to the play store and isn't thick. But just like any computer system it will from time to time be breached. All you can hope for is a quick patch.

      If you have someone serious after you then all bets are off. Don't kid yourself that your homebrew system is secure against this type of attack. 1st line of attack is to seed a weakness into the base software, the stuff that you use is built on this so compromised. 2nd your phone is connected to a network run by ppl that can be working for any number of players. So the only reasonable course is not to worry too much about the security services having access to your phone or correspondence if they ever want it. After all that's what they get paid to do, and you have expect that they are competent. So protecting yourself against a second order threat is reasonable and you are probably best to go with someone who will suffer damage to their reputation if they let you down (and have good engineers), so Google or Apple basically. YMMV

  20. W Donelson

    Duh. This was always the plan.

    At least Android updates will be faster.

  21. Cosmo

    Marketing will be interesting

    The pixels do look like good phones, but I just can't see them making an impact unless they market them heavily. For a lot of people that don't know a great deal about phones, Android is basically Samsung.

    I had a Nexus 4 for about 2 and a half years and it was an excellent phone, but most people had never heard of the Nexus brand. I've hardly seen any main news sites covering the Pixel in the way that the new iPhone or S series Samsung gets covered.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anybody can build Android, it's the Google Apps/Market that is the big deal. Make a compelling case for users to switch GAPPS, then you can fork Android. Any phone maker that can do that has a golden feature. They have all failed, so far.

  23. nerdbert
    FAIL

    The Pixel is dim

    Pixel is too much money for too little return in my book. I've been a Nexus user from the start, and when I look at my 5x and compare the Pixel I'm massively underwhelmed. $400+ for that?! What I still want is a replaceable battery and a uSD slot and possibly water resistance (although that's not as big a deal), none of which come in the Pixel.

    If Google's going to make an iPhone clone, it's got to do better than an iPhone because Google already comes to table with a big minus in that it lives by stripping away my privacy in more ways than Apple does. At this point, I'd do the iPhone before I'd do a Pixel if I had to choose. And I dislike my daughter's iPhone and I absolutely despise iTunes with white-hot hate.

    I keep meaning to try Cyanogen and the Pixel might be what drives me to it. Now where'd I leave my wife's old LG G3?

  24. Ilsa Loving

    This needs to be done

    OEMs have done a fantastic job of demonstrating why OEMs don't deserve the right to build android devices.

    The term "Landfill Android" came about specifically because almost the entire ecosystem of android builders, Samsung included, couldn't make a decent device to save their lives.

    Or even if they accidentally did make a good device, you could be sure that it would get maybe 6 months worth of support if you were lucky. It took something like stagefright to open manufacturers eyes, and even then, only Samsung, LG and... someone else, I forget who.... FINALLY started offering monthly patch updates.

    All this demonstrates that Apple was actually right in it's control freakery. Third party builders simply cannot be trusted to put out a decent product. And now Google is taking that lesson to heart.

  25. Mikel

    What did OEMs expect?

    They have been flat refusing to build the devices Google wanted to be offered. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

    Uniquely Pixel features: Google can add their own special sauce on top of Android just like anyone else can. There is nothing wrong with that. If the other OEMs find that Google's unique spin is popular they will no doubt copy it. Goodness know most things they do to stock Android subtract, not add, value.

    And that is the problem. To make their Android products unique they take away from the smooth integration their products could have.

  26. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Strange...

    Poor things. All they can do is design and build millions of smartphones. Useless plonks...

    But porting an OS onto the phone, and banging up a new ecosystem is beyond them?

    Very strange worldview.

  27. cd

    The reason it won't be a threat is that Google simply cannot do customer service.

    1. DryBones
      WTF?

      Not sure if you're serious, or forgot the joke icon. "$Carrier name is crap!" is kind of a standard line, so it's not like the competition has set a high bar. Walk over, step over it, accept the accolades.

      Google's Project Fi. They offer customer service by voice, e-mail, and text chat, within a handful of minutes at most. Samsung? Ehhhh, go talk to your carrier (in person, because anything else is totally rubbish), or at worst Samsung's tech support line (say hi to Josh from India for me!).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The only time I've ever had to ask google for support (a synch problem with my google play account) they were incredibly good. I had a call back from someone knowledgable about the platform within an hour, and a fix shortly thereafter. On the basis of that experience they blow the cellular carriers out of the water on customer support.

  28. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Commodities

    The mobile phone in its current iteration is plateauing. Their usefulness is limited by the size of the screen and how data can be input. Tablets and Phablets, by having larger screens, are more useful but still fall short of a laptop for serious work. By work, I mean creating content and not simply consuming it. I don't see the Android OS as having enough depth to use on a laptop with a comparable functionality to Win or MacOS. If Google wants to start walling off functionality for their exclusive marketing, they will open a door for a competitor. Right now, it would be too hard to get any traction as a third mobile OS provider. Even M$ isn't doing very well at it and a big part of that was coming late to the party with a product incorporating a UI that looks like it was designed by Fisher-Price.

    Phones are a commodity now. I have a an off-brand phone that does everything I want it to do. There is nothing about an iPhone or the Pixel that makes me want to rush out and pay over 10x the amount of money to own one. This week I plan to buy another copy of the phone I have as a back up for around £60. I'm not a Royal or a bank robber so having spare iPhones or top of the line Samsungs just sitting around isn't in my budget.

  29. Ruli Manurung

    "Pixel will contain new Android features first – and sometimes exclusively"

    Just curious... what features from Pixel have been announced as being exclusive to Pixel?

    1. Ruli Manurung

      ...exactly.

  30. Robert Grant

    One day tech writers will stop using "price point" when they mean "price" - i.e. over 99% of the time.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pixel purpose

    Isn't the whole reason for the Pixel to provide an alternative to Apple that looks comfortingly familiar - right down to price, which has margin headroom built in eventually to attract carriers beyond Verizon?

    Currently the US phone market is Apple/Samsung and that is not actually good for Google in the long run.

    I don't believe that these are aimed at anything beyond the US market. The number of iPhone lookalikes in China is huge and customised for the Chinese. This is all about piece of mind with US consumers.

  32. NeilPost

    Motorola

    So if Google is trying to seize more control of Android, and have more control in phone manufature............... why did they flog Motorola Mobility to Lenovo 2 years back. Seems a bit dumbass in retrospect.

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