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.