Year In Review: Coming Up Of Pixel: "Made By Google"

Adios 2016, hello 2017! We wish you all a Happy New Year. Over the next few days, we take a look at the major tech events that took place last year. We talk about them in great detail and do an in-depth analysis too. In the second part of this series, we talk about how Google came up with the brand name of 'Pixel'.

Clearing the misconceptions

Google had launched the pair of Google Pixel and Pixel XL in an event on October 4. The devices have been marketed on the 'Made by Google' page as 'Meet Pixel, Phone by Google'. Even though Google might have supervised the development of both the software and hardware of the devices, the Pixel duo were manufactured by Taiwanese manufacturer HTC. 

In fact, Google has had used the Pixel branding earlier for the tablets Chromebook Pixel and Pixel C. As in the case of the Pixel smartphones, both the Chromebook Pixel and Pixel C have been made in partnership with other manufacturers, with the latter having been made by Quanta Computer Inc.

It is indeed an interesting debate question as to why Google hasn't even mentioned HTC for it's role in the Pixel phones. Similarly, Google hasn't even mentioned the manufacturers behind the Chromebook Pixel and Pixel C. 

Interestingly, Rick Osterloh, Google's SVP of hardware, was the one who had introduced the Pixel and Pixel XL in the event on October 4. He had defined Pixel as "the best of hardware and software built by Google." Unlike Google, Apple has openly listed the suppliers (including Foxconn) which help it in making it's devices. Why Google hasn't acknowledged the contribution of HTC in any form still remains to be known.

It's not that Google hasn't tried it's luck in the hardware department. It had bought Motorola in 2011 for a mammoth sum of $12.5 billions. However in 2014, the search giant sold off Motorola to Lenovo for a sum of $2.9 billions. Motorola had launched the popular series of Moto G and Moto X phones when it was under Google. It was clear from the prices of the first generation of these phones that Google never intended to make any profits from Motorola. Motorola had instead been acquired for the patents it had and to propagate the stock Android experience at cheaper rates. Not only this, Google had also tried it's luck with Google Glass. Google Glass was undoubtedly a very unique concept, but Google failed to capitalise on it and the sale of Glass was ultimately stopped in early 2015. Following this, Google had hired former Motorola president Rick Osterloh last April to run the hardware operations of the search giant. Having seen both the downfall and rise of Motorola in the mobile industry, Rick certainly brings a lot of knowledge and experience to the table. However, in September 2016, the modular concept of a phone perceived in the form of Project Ara was also called off. Pixel seems to mark a new beginning for Google in the hardware industry and we do hope Google leaves a mark here too.

The tarnished exclusivity

The Pixel duo are undoubtedly all about the software they pack in. Even from advertising perspective, Google has promoted it's own branded phones more for the software they possess. 

Google Pixel phones are the first ones to have the Google Assistant built right into them. Other software features exclusive to the Pixel phones include the Pixel launcher, support for circular icons, seamless installation of updates and 24/7 audio/visual chat support from Google's support team. With absolutely no question, Google Assistant is the flagship feature the Pixels boast of.

On the hardware front, Google claims that the Pixel phones have the highest rated camera in any phone till date. The Pixel duo also support some fingerfingerprint gestures on the fingerprint scanner to execute tasks such as sliding down to view notifications and then sliding down again to view the quick settings panel . Fingerprint gestures are a fairly common feature to come across in today's flagship phones. The only 'exclusive' feature on the hardware side can be the presence of the headphone jack! Google apparently even teased Apple for the same during the October 4 event.

Because Android is open source, Android users are free to modify their phone as per their will, provided they have the tools and knowledge to do so. One of the tools that comes really very handy in modifying the stock Android firmware on most handsets is the Xposed framework. Through the medium of this framework, rooted Android users can customise the looks of the software on their device and even add new features to it. 

Because of the efforts from some great developers, Android users could get an experience of some features from Nougat on their Lollipop & Marshmallow devices. These included the Android N style notifications, quick settings panel and setting tiles summary. Xposed module Android N-ify bought these Nougat features to earlier Android versions even when Nougat's source code hadn't been released by Google. Usually to add extended functionalities from newer Android versions to older ones, developers make use of the source code of the new Android version released by Google. They try to make this code work even on older Android versions, so that Android users who are stuck on a previous version of Android can get the best of the latest Android version on their devices. If the developers succeed in getting this code to work, they usually release it in the form of Xposed modules.

Xposed modules such as Android N-ify and Assistant Enabler have successfully brought the Google Assistant to Android devices running Marshmallow. Not only this, the feature of fingerprint scanner gestures has also been replicated on the devices consisting of the supported hardware to implement these gestures.

APK files for the Pixel launcher are widely available and can be installed with the help of just a few taps. Modern launchers such as Nova Launcher & Action Launcher also consist of the features offered by Pixel launcher. For the circular icons support, there are many icon packs which one can use. Barring the Google Assistant & fingerprint scanner gestures, most of the other features from the Pixel phones can be obtained even on a non-rooted device. You can refer to this detailed post by Joey, where he has explained on how you can get the various Pixel features on your Android device.

So, anyone who has the knowledge to modify their phone, will be able to get all the Pixel features on their device. The fact that Android is open source in nature might have thus bit Google hard this time, however the very fact that Android is open source is the thriving reason for it's popularity and growth. It's thus a case of a double edged sword.

The clever rebranding of perception

As we had even written before, the Pixel branding of smartphones is nothing more than a smart move to overturn the development image the Nexus branding had.

Nexus phones have most of the times been perceived as phones with development in mind. They are more often than not treated as phones which could easily be modified, hacked into and be used by developers to test their development work such as apps etc on. In short, Nexus phones were for Android enthusiasts.

To back my claim, try and recall of any advertisement you might have seen about the Nexus phones. I hardly think there would be any. On the other hand, there hardly might have been a day when you wouldn't have seen a Pixel ad. I have seen it as big advertisement hoardings, multiple times on television and as banner ads on several websites. There might be one on this page too. That's the effort Google has been making to promote it's brand of smartphones.

Moreover, it's not all about attracting attention. It is about extracting appeal too. A phone made by Google. Google is undoubtedly the most popular search engine of all time. So a phone made by the 'search engine giant' will have they extra sense of appeal because of it's branding. This might be a small factor but Google's name certainly gives the Pixel phones a slight edge over it's competitors.

The element of luck paired with destiny

Some things are destined to happen. As destiny would have it, the timing of the launch of the Google Pixel/Pieces XL couldn't have been any better. Or should I say that the events leading up to the October 4 event were unfortunate for many, but fortune enough to throw the ball into Google's court.

Firstly, Apple gave up on the headphone jack. Surely a major letdown. Apple definitely lost a lost of potential customers just because of their sole intention to make the iPhone thinner.  

Secondly, Samsung blasted itself out of the race with the Note 7. As a curious observer, I think that the timing of the Note 7 blast couldn't have been any better. Note 7's bombing capabilities rose to limelight after it's launch in August, just about a month prior to the Pixel duo's launch. Over the next few months, Samsung not only lost on brand value but also the faith of their customers. 

Lastly, LG's modular efforts on the G5 failed as well and the company has reported of growing losses since then. 

It thus looks like Google is the sole runner running the race. Other runners eliminated themselves out of the race. Thus Google Pixel is undoubtedly our choice for this year's best smartphone of the year.

Krittin Kalra
Krittin Kalra is a 20 year old Android freak. Striving for passions, chasing down his dreams and living a life without regrets is his sole mantra. A bit moody, he also does custom ROM reviews for AndroGuider. Currently pursuing his B.Tech, he aspires to follow his heart.
Year In Review: Coming Up Of Pixel: "Made By Google" Year In Review: Coming Up Of Pixel: "Made By Google" Reviewed by Krittin Kalra on 1/01/2017 09:49:00 PM
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