The Time is Right for a Pixel Phone: an Uber-Flagship to Complement the Nexus Line
Near and dear to all of our hearts is the Nexus program, revered for its excellent and almost unblemished support of developers, tinkerers, and purists alike. Over the years though we have seen multiple transformations as Google has tried to see where its program fits.
After going from top-tier flagship competitor to a mid-range monster and finally settling this year on a lukewarm mix of the two, you could say the Nexus program has been through quite a transformation. Appealing to purists at multiple price points has never steered Google wrong though. Both the Nexus 5 and 6P appear to have sold well and the 5X at its current sales price of $199 (through Fi) is unbeatable. It’s hard to not see the advantage over many other competing devices. The Nexus program is always running the latest software, guaranteed the latest security patches and are first in line for beta programs, previews and even Android forks outside of the Google sanctioned software. But as we well know, Nexus devices account for a very small, possibly imperceptible sliver of the market share.
Performance issues at launch, unfinished or lacking features, and other seemingly random hardware problems have left Nexus devices with a low notoriety, and poor marketing compounds this issue. This has left the door wide open for other OEMs to flood the market. These OEMs rarely share Google’s, and most peoples, desire to have the most current and up to date software and security patches or have an unadulterated version of Android. Due to this, countless articles have been written shaming Android for its slowness to update in comparison to its competitors, and for good reason.
If running the latest Android version were equated to worldwide device market share, Android Marshmallow would be equal to Lenovo (incl. Motorola)… Software and security updates are a big deal and this is not exactly a pretty picture.
Is the cheaper alternative the only right one?
While we can all agree that the $400 flagship is something we would all like and possibly even need, it is not something we all necessarily want. The affordable alternative smartphone may be taking world by storm, but the typically-priced flagship is not going anywhere anytime soon. Using China as an example, Xiaomi took the lead with 15% of the market share for 2015 and Huawei came in behind with 14.5%. Known of as the affordable alternative – but still putting out good hardware – these two manufacturers have ASP’s (Average Selling Prices) of $141 and $213, nestling comfortably into the affordable part of the market. The most interesting part of this data is that Apple commands the third place spot with 13.4% of the market and an ASP of a startling $718; yes, you could purchase 5 average Xiaomi phones for the average Apple device. Adding to these staggering numbers is the fact that all 3 of these companies have seen an averaged YOY growth of 44% with Apple leading at 56% all while increasing its ASP by almost 16%.
We don’t want to get lost in the numbers though, the fact is that even with the rise of the affordable smartphone people are still willing to pay top dollar for a top tier flagship. This doesn’t just apply to Apple though as Samsung has shown with its S7 and S7 edge. But as illustrated by the LG G5 and the initial reaction to the HTC 10’s MSRP, it is important to note that it isn’t just a top dollar device they want, consumers want a top dollar device that they feel is worth it. That means the best camera, the best display and the best performance with all the features and no compromises. When it comes to Android they also want features that are useful beyond the staples: like waterproofing, wireless charging, contactless payments everywhere, or can offer easily affordable VR experiences.
It’s time for a change, and Google can actually pull this one off!
When people think about a Nexus device they will typically consider it a Google product, and for all intents and purposes it is, except that it isn’t. Google has always worked with device partners for its branded phones but they are still unequivocally the child of the manufacturer and not Google. However, the Pixel line of devices are distinctly and uniquely Google, manufactured start to finish by them and are renowned for their almost impeccable level of build quality. Similar to Apple and Samsung products they are built with a top-tier manufacturing, packed with features which are typically bleeding-edge, and unlike Samsung (but very much like Apple) are always running the latest and greatest Google software. But the Pixel line has never had a device that was marketed (primarily in price) towards developers and tinkerers, something the Nexus line has almost always been able to do. Google doesn’t need to bring us two Nexus devices, one “Premium” and one affordable unit, they need to bring us the Pixel Phone and a Nexus Phone in 2016.
Samsung has cemented its lead as the premium Android brand and even with devices like the LG G5 and HTC 10 appearing to contest that throne, neither bring to the table what is needed to dethrone them, or even appear to make a dent. While their reign has brought great things to Android – excellent mobile VR, stunning displays, faster memory – they still have a disconnect when it comes to software updates for their flagships and everyone who purchases a Samsung device or recommends one is enabling them to continue this trend.
They have made monumental improvements with the introduction of Google’s monthly Android security updates but those updates trickle down to individual carriers and devices at an alarmingly slow pace — while AT&T’s Galaxy S7 got its April Security update today, I have been running it on my T-Mobile S7 since April 4th!
Even though Samsung’s newest flagship is on the most current security patch, time has shown us that this is most likely a ‘honeymoon stage’, something almost every Android OEM suffers from. The T-Mobile Note 5 was stuck on the December Security update until last week when the Marshmallow and April update were delivered, unacceptable on both accounts.
Google needs to fix this, Google can fix this… It’s time for the Pixel Phone…
As we discussed earlier, the flagship isn’t dead. While the argument could be made that the $400 flagship is growing, there is still a strong desire for a no frills, no compromise flagship one that both Samsung and Apple have shown will sell. The Galaxy S7 is an astonishing good device, it has all the chops to go toe to toe with the iPhone now, and the iPhone to come. But in 4 months when Google is releasing Android N there are going to be at least 10 million S7 owners who may wonder when they might see an update. It’s time for Google to lead Android with an uber-premium Pixel branded flagship that follows Apple’s lead by not compromising on features or experience and timely delivering the latest in security and software updates.
But their job doesn’t stop there though, they also need to bring back the developer-centric, affordably-priced $300 Nexus Powerhouse Phone. Google has all the tools in its storehouse to make this dream a reality. It’s time that Google showed the world the Android we all know and love without the “but” that so often follows a Nexus recommendation.