10.14.2016

Google Pixel Phone is Bad for Android as a Whole

What's good for Google isn't necessarily good for the consumer


Last week, Google announced its new flagship phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL. As covered by Davis, this is Google’s first attempt at controlling the entire stack from software to hardware, a method similar to Apple’s. And like Apple’s iPhone, the base model of each costs $649. Google’s official phone comes in two sizes. This is notable both because of the choice it offers consumers and due to the similarity to both the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7. Prices for all three handsets approach $1,000 when spec’d out with a 5 ½ inch screen and the maximum available flash storage.

Google’s presentation last week served as the great reveal of its strategy for the near future; Google is now a hardware company. Atop the search giant’s portfolio of streaming solutions and interconnected routers sit these two handsets. And like other Android OEMs, Google has its own opinion on what UI tweaks and software solutions should ship with their version of the OS.

"The Pixel phones don’t run stock Android but instead run a flavor with the Google Assistant baked in."

Unlike the now discontinued Nexus lineup, the Pixel phones don’t run “stock Android” but instead run a flavor with the Google Assistant, a chatbot powered by Google Now, baked in. At its heart, Android is open source. However, the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) serves largely as a vehicle for GApps, the suite of applications Google forces hardware vendors to preload onto their devices in exchange for access to the Play Store. There is no vendor with the scale of Samsung or Apple that ships mobile devices running a Google-free variant of Android (in the West, at least).

And so since the separation of Android and GApps is theoretical, how Google modifies its version of Android is of the utmost importance. The modifications Mountain View has made to the world’s most-used operating system will likely trickle down into the required programs that will come preinstalled on handsets by Sony, Samsung, HTC, and others. The preference Google is showing for its own search engine and AI assistant will send shockwaves through the Android ecosystem.

"The preference Google is showing for its own search engine and AI assistant will send shockwaves through the Android ecosystem."

Yet-to-be-determined sales figures notwithstanding, Google has successfully mimicked Apple’s method of mobile development. Apple is the world’s most profitable company, so copying Cupertino is likely to play out well for Google. But the iPhone and its iOS are a closed system, so if these trends lead to less choice, it’s Google’s hardware partners and ultimately we, the consumers, who will get the short end of the stick.

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