How Google’s “Pixel” Smartphones Failed

And how they have the potential to unlimited success

Dhruv Hegde
6 min readJul 13, 2022

Google is a technological behemoth, and there is no denying this fact. From being a humble silicon valley startup, Larry Page and Sergei Brin took the company to new heights. Over 70,000 searches are simultaneously occurring every second across the globe; this accounts for the 20 petabytes of data that is processed daily in their processing units.

Alphabet, Google’s Parent Company, makes around $425,000 every single minute. Their success has been unprecedented and as a search engine, Google dominates the competitors that have arrived. Moreover, they’ve achieved monumental success with their services and their software. So the question of their lackluster hardware devices comes into view:

Why and How is Google Failing?

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To pinpoint the factors of their decline, we must quickly go back to their start in this market. The history of Google’s hardware branch is riddled with inconsistencies and decisions that led them down the path of mediocre sales rather than that of blockbuster success.

This story begins in 2005, when a small software startup approached Google about an acquisition. Being turned down by Yahoo, the team of developers were hoping for a more favorable outcome with Google. Luckily for them, Google bought out the company for 50 million USD, which seemed to be quite a random acquisition to the outside world at the time. However, this small startup eventually became an omnipresent entity in the smartphone space; the company was Android.

Google possessed Android, a ley player in the smartphone revolution, but were still late to the chase. By the time that Apple released the iPhone 3G and established themselves as the premium smartphone, Google had barely begun their journey. This was their first mistake.

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By waiting almost 3 years before joining the game, they were late to a race that was extremely competitive. Though they had a prominent reputation, the early-birds had more time to experiment and fine-tune their products, whereas Google just meddled about without any experience.

Their first release occurred in 2008 as a collaboration with HTC in the form the HTC Dream. Though this release spurred enthusiasts due to Google’s involvement, it was an underwhelming release nonetheless.

Google continued approaching the market with collaborations with established brands, rather than manufacturing in-house. They discontinued their HTC line and established the Nexus line, in which they partnered with Samsung. However, this is where I believe their second mistake was.

Rather than create an independent actuality, Google remained tied up with other companies, simply developing the software they were already renowned for. It seemed like they were procrastinating developing hardware, for their first device on their own was released in 2016, over 6 years after their initial start. Needless to say, this has always been a thorn in their back.

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Google unveiled the Pixel and Pixel XL in October of 2016. Immediately, this phone shined under the light of media coverage and waves rippled across the Tech Community. It received millions of sales and mostly positive reception, with polished stock Android that people came to love. The hardware on-par, if not slightly worse, than that of it’s competitors, but people understood it’s purpose and enjoyed the experience.

In 2017, Google seemed to be on the right track. They unveiled the Pixel 2 and 2 XL-clean devices with upgraded hardware, superlative software, and a camera surprisingly good. Further, Google started to add color accents and complimenting features on their phones, which made it a considerable option for countless enthusiasts. They followed suit with the Pixel 3, 3 XL, and the budget 3A, which slightly expanded the scope of users for the brand.

However, their decline began with the Pixel 4, which was unveiled in 2019. The Pixel 4 features some experimental software features and raised the price tag significantly, starting at a retail price of around $900 at time of launch. Quickly, users started to notice bugs in the software and, worse, an incredibly short battery life. The negative stigma was exemplified by the leaks that had reduced excitement, the low RAM/ROM, and it’s little change from the 3.

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This was a sudden hit to Google’s Smartphone division and it took them a while to recover. They followed up with the 4A, a budget alternative, and though some liked this phone, I was upset with the underwhelming hardware. Remember, this is 2019. OnePlus, the famed “Flagship Killer”, is topping the charts with the 7 Pro and 7T. Xiaomi, a rising figure, is replacing the void of Huawei and released budget behemoths like the K40 under their Redmi branch. Google just didn’t have what it took to crack into this market.

It seemed like Google was scared and somewhat disillusioned with their approach. 2020, a year when smartphone companies strived to put out their best quality devices to capitalize on the increase of digital content during quarantine, seemed like a break for Google. They launched the Pixel 5, along with the 5A, but both were simply budget phones that lacked any specialty aside from the software. The enthusiasts cheering for them only a few years prior were convinced of their position at the bottom in the smartphone market. That’s when the rumors began.

Google started with success, but kept declining with every release they had, taking a critical blow after the release of the 4. Google didn’t want this to be their reputation and devised a comeback to return to the position they were once at. They began designing the Pixel 6 and managed it carefully, only letting out bits of information to increase conversation.

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When the Pixel 6, and the 6 Pro, were unveiled, the expectations were high. People had received the clues that Google was sending and started to speculate about the power moves that Google could be making. Soon, reviews began to pour in, the the reception turned out to be positive. Though there were complaints, they were limited and were similar in quantity to other flagship phones by successful brands like Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, or Vivo.

In my eyes, the Pixel 6 was a success; not in terms of sales, which it still lacked, but the respect that Google gained from the community that had slept on them. Though Sundar Pichai had to explain the sales amount for the Pixel 6, it received better reception than the 5 and the 4, which is improvement. Additionally, the Google Tensor chip shaped to be quite powerful for a first-time addition, raising the stakes and creating a phone that Google has control of indefinitely.

With the hype and hope surrounding the Pixel 7, especially after their recent release of the 6A, Google has the opportunity to take a spot as one of the Top Dogs. As we have seen with the emergence of Xiaomi and Realme, Google is currently in a unique position with little to lose and the most to gain. Considering the immense impact they’ve had over the years and a loyal set of users, Google has the chance to make it in the Smartphone market. All they have to do is take it.

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