Does Google Need the Pixel Phone? (Feat. Dieter Bohn)
I didn't want it to video about Google pixel phones for a while now ever since the company announced, kinda lackluster sales for the premium pixel three but then turn right around and launched the far more budget friendly, pixel three a then John Renton your posted his video provocatively, titled, no one cares about the pixel. And it's great, you should watch it Lincoln description, so that also got me thinking, drag style. Not so much about what the pixel is. But why the pixel is what does this do for Google and for us? And if we're seeing that change with the three or with the four, what does that mean? Tell me figured out, I asked the man who literally got me started in this business and yeah. That side one of the smartest people. I know executive editor of the verge and host of processor on YouTube deeter bowed, hit subscribe, and skull Vikings at bell. Most you don't miss any of the videos coming up next week. I'm Rene Ritchie. And this is Victor. Thank you so much for joining me now. Thanks. It's really. So I wanted to talk to you about the pixel I guess where it is today where it's going in the future. Originally, there was the next program. I really loved the next one it was like the future of Android a year in advance in your hand. But then subsequent nexus is all fell different like some felt like summations of the years androids. Some felt like budget plays for developers some just maybe like experiments, do any feeling sort of what Google wanted to achieve with the nexus program, and why they felt the need to switch to something like pixel, I think you're exactly right that the goals for the next program changed year to year. They, they always claimed it was meant to be sort of a demonstration device, so that the rest of the ecosystem could learn how to make better Android devices. And in the early years that was about, like, well, we, we have the latest processor, we need on how to make Android work on this latest processor. So we're gonna do that, that became less and less important as time went on, and I think more Android manufacturers. Learn how to work with all com, honestly, and welcome learn how to like make stuff easier for those manufacturers. And so, you know, the later nexus is sort of just got weird, frankly, not that great. There's the, the next six the shampoo nexus with literally like codename for whale, it was so big and fat. But I think that as the next program became more and more diffused cents purpose. They realized they needed to do a better job selling hardware directly in. That's why they switched over to pixel which is made by Google tagline. But it's only really this year that the phone has honestly stopped being sort of like a nexus made by Google become like an actual Google phone. So you go back to the first Google and that was the weird one from me because it was like the first phone made by Google. And that's really dismissive of the next program, but also looks like an HDC phone. I wasn't clear what they wanted with that first one was just meant to be to demo how you implement an update and support Android. If you're Google, I think, so. I think it was also. To just start building that muscle because they didn't have it before. And they had the long term plan of properly unifying all of their, their hardware. And something that's coherent instead of just whatever some random Guler wants to do in their twenty percent time. So I don't think they expected the first pixel or the second pixel, maybe ninety third pixel two like, really do super well in the market, but they needed to learn how to be a company that makes a phone and the, the funny thing you mentioned about looking like an ACC phone. There's this weird thing with most phone manufacturers that aren't named apple where the division between the company that makes the phone and, you know, the, the Cup the factory that makes that actually builds the phone is actually a lot blurrier than you might think. And so it's fair to call the first pixel Google phone, but it's also fair to say that the company that they worked with the make that phone had a big hand in developing it. And over the. Years, Google has wanted to clarify that we're fuzzy boundary more and more and make sure more and more of it happens inside Google and not in the weird middle's on or just at the factory. So then we get into pixel two and that feels like the beginning of that pixel thing because you start to get the camera, and it's not a super impressive sensor or lens, but they start to the get the advent of real computational photography. And there are some issues like the screen stuff, which I guess we can talk about. But that felt like growing pains to me, but it was really when people started to notice Google was doing something, and they put a lot of force behind that camera technology. Yeah. The, the camera is definitely the story. The pixel to the screen thing you mentioned is not aware of the, the larger pixel to excel had a Olette screen with, really terrible. Muddy colors and the Android home buttons the buttons on the bottom, you can see ghosting on it. And it was pretty prominent more so than we've seen in other lead phones. And so it was pretty unclear in the first month or so, whether that was just standard lead ghosting, or if it was potentially real burning, and it caused quite a lot of drama. We actually pull our view score for a while till it all got cut a figured out Google. Pretty heavy the, the king-size pixel, one was like, let's learn how to make a phone pixel two as okay? We're, we're starting to get an idea here. Let's really flex our muscle on computational photography. And I think that they, they like a generational leap compared to what was available when the pixel two came out. It was it was that good. And the third one was a little bit of, like, let's, let's solidify our design, language of what a pixel phone looks like you mentioned, the next earlier. The next phones looked wildly different every year, they're completely they completely would change and because Google pick different manufacturers. And what they're doing, but the pixel two coming out with the same sort of design language, as the pixel one just sort of refined meant that, okay? Now, Google knows what it wants a phone to look like, you know, take leave it in some cases, I think that the design, which is fine. I think it's nice. It's very simple and clean, but it's not very I dunno elegant or high ender flashy, and also it was interesting because there were portrait modes before apple famously did it, and I'm blanking on while we might have done it before them as well. At least one of their vendor, but they really went all in on it, and other companies responded by adding more cameras like LG went to three and Samsung went to three. And while away went to three. Is that because you don't think they could compete with algorithms or because they wanted to keep an optical, edge, or just everyone was playing around with different camera technologies. I think it's a mix of those things I would say that what it probably couldn't compete on just the computational side. And so they needed another lens to do it. But I think a better way to read the proliferation of cameras on Android phones, is to look at markets outside the US, and even Canada, where specs actually matter a lot more to consumers than people realize, and they really do count cameras and care. A really really big market for Android, is India. And in India, I think you'd be shocked at the number of phones it released it's like one major one week in one minor one almost every day, and how smart read up, and like savvy users are in that market about specs on Android phones. And so, you know, putting another Cameron, they're actually does make a difference in terms of its marketability in different markets around the world. So one of the things I noticed, especially at sea ES, had Daniel baiter, Andrew Martin with me, and they were shooting. With the pixel. And they love the photos, but they hinted the launch speed. And they hit when they didn't get photo save. And I've noticed a lot of Marquez's complained about this and ended authority and a bunch of people, and it's like this love hate relationship, and is that just because algorithms, and software are different or because there's never enough ram in a pixel or a bunch of different things. So this is a complicated question. The end the end of the complication, which I'm going to go into is Google done screwed up, and they should have fixed it, and they should still fix it. But so pixel was, let's learn how to make a phone pixel two. Let's we know how to make a really great camera. We know our design language pixel, three was okay. We're making this phone more ourselves. And we, we actually wanna focus a little bit more on the software experience and make this feel like a fully truly Google phone that has a bunch of Google services. That is distinguished from other flavors of Android or playing Android, which doesn't really exist on phones anymore. And so along with that the onus was on Google to really nail the software experience. And I think that they, they just whiff some like, really basic stuff on ramp management. And so while the offers cleaner easier to understand easier to use more Google fide than any other enter tone, ons. And do you think it's like easier understand pixel phone than a Samsung phone, for example within on some core memory management issues is bad, and it's a specially bad when it primarily seems to like people notice it on the camera app. Like, if you're losing a photo on a phone, whose main selling point is the camera as just flat out on acceptable. They've done some stuff to try to clean it up, but it's still happening and it's a huge problem. So then we had Google recent results and sort of painted a picture that the pixel wasn't selling that. Well, and I think most of us in the business to Sumed it was selling, okay. But not great because it really never looked like they went out of their way to market it to get into carriers to get it into. Of purchase but they also said something about I don't know, if it was flagship exhaustion or fatigue or something. And then they followed that up with the launch of the pixel three eight which is way more budget friendly. And is that sort of Google rethinking their overall pixel strategy? Is that them trying to do what they didn't with nexus, and please different people with different phones? Or is it just like an Evelyn of their strategy? I think so. I think that we should intimate a tick tock from them. It's likely that they'll probably have a flagship phone and then a low on phone going forward, which by the way, everybody phone manufacturer does, it's just their low end phones are more expensive than the pixel three happens to be right. And so I think that again, like Google really wants to be a big boy phone company. You know, and haven't been big my company means selling multiple models, and multiple price points. And so I think that's, that's what the pixel three has four. What's interesting about the pixel three a is it. There's a processor choice, five whatever you, but they made. Different trade offs about what goes into budget phone or value phone than anybody else. Does everybody else trying to make value phone ends up compromising on the screen and the camera basically, Google chose not to compromise on the camera and kind of shows compromise screen honesty, they chose to compromise on the processor. So if you wanna buy an Android phone for some five hundred bucks you end up with choice between the singers pretty fast. But, like takes garbage photos or this thing that's not that fast takes great photos. That's decision. Interesting Z how plays out unless you count, choose to prioritize the camera, and the processor, just let everything else go. Yeah. Well, I mean, we'll see the, the question about is Google selling pixels is incredibly vexing in the US been exclusive to rise in all they'd work at any carrier. They also Google five count, that as real care, which is up to you, but the marketing was primarily done through some of some goodwill. Stuff. But a lot of leading Verizon handle it. But now with the three three is available on all US carriers except AT, and T and the pixel three is available on all US carriers except AT, like actually sold in the store, and I'm told that they're not planning on radically expanding expanding their marketing budget. So it's just always been the commercialism that, just there aren't that many pixel phone sold. I think that's probably true that Google dip last quarter, I think is partially due to an overall dip in smartphone sales especially at the high end and partially due to the fact that the pixel is on a weird cadence relative to the availability of smartphone components. And this is actually kind of important. So like apple pixel, like Google releases phones in the fall. So it does knocked-over typically, it turns out that the way that Qualcomm releases its processors, those, their newest generation typically available in the spring, and so unless Google can get a jump on that or change its cadence, it's always going to have. The processor in it. That is going to get supplanted by other Android phones within like you know, four to six months of its release. And so that's just going to be a thing that happens to them over and over again. And I think that Google's going to need to make some hard choices about when it releases its phones, how premium inexpensive wants to make them because right now a pixel phone looks final nice, but it looks nowhere near as impressive as an S ten or an iphone. And if it's playing in that price category, it needs to be a more impressive object than currently is. And you mentioned the processors and I heard a rumor a few years ago that primarily than than you see then UCF. Oh, really wanted like an iphone a galaxy phone while we top tier soup-to-nuts, made by Google phone all the way from the silicon to the interface. And they were putting together that team they post a bunch of people from apple. They got a bunch of people from, you know, Qualcomm, other companies, and we're working on it, but just like a couple of weeks ago, we heard that they lost a lot of those people. And that division may not go forward not even see pixel cores anymore. And I wonder if that's a change in strategy. Or Qualcomm is just getting good enough that it's not worth the investment in consumer silicon and to your point, they're releasing their lower silicon phone went welcomes releasing their better, silicon can they can call that work for should they do their own stuff. It's there's a lot of things going on there, and I don't have any inside information about it. Honestly, I don't know how committed Google was trying to make its own core. Main processor CPU. I suspect that, that problem is much, much, much, much harder than anybody, realizes it, you know, of course, apple a long time around the world. Most people just use Qualcomm stuff will come obviously, has a ton of patents know-how Samsung, and while I have managed to make their own processors for their phone so Samsung exodus Paula has cure in, but they generally don't. They don't play as well as they don't work as well with modems than orca as well with, like, four G. And now soon five G is the assumption. And so it's, it's a really hard problem now whether they lost team because they making their own arm processor or not. I don't know. I do know that three years after releasing their first real Google phone to expect them to, like, have a processor is not super realistic. I it takes longer than people realize, and even apple two people realize that I think that they managed to move much, much faster to get their processor on the iphone than anybody else could especially in the way that the entered market works right now. So how do you feel about platform companies competing against their own their own vendors? We see Microsoft doing it with the surface Google's doing it now with the pixel, and smartly, they target apple, you know, like the billboard say phone ex and it's pretty apparently, apple even though my, my friends who switched to pixel they switch from other Android phones, and just because there's zero cost. Of, of making that switch, if you already using Android, and it's a little bit less convenient if you're not. So it seems like like the actual churn is from other Android vendors, but should they be better platform citizens? And for example, instead of making a pixel phone Google just make that camera app available for every Android vendors. Every Android camera is way better than any other platform. I think it's important for them to be in the order of business as strictly as an insurance policy, if they had let the market do what it wanted to Samsung would start doing crazy stuff, and then ultimately like, would you please calm down, or you know, maybe it would have become even more ascendant their number one number two of until weeks ago. And then all of a sudden, like bam, they get shut down. So running your own hardware, division means you have a little bit more control of your own destiny in a scary changing world. I also think that the, the traditional rules of a platform maker, also. Sell competing products with the other OEM's participate have changed. So like the classic stuff that everybody has in their head is apple when it had third party max and like palm right way back in the day. And there was some real cannibalization of the market, there, that was like real. And they had to fix that. I think now the market is big enough and companies like, Google, Microsoft aren't throwing that much weight behind trying to dominate the market. And so it ends up sort of being like a an easy piece to, to maintain and that may be one of the reasons I'd like the pixel is very nice, but it's not like oh my God. This is the best phone ever, except for the camera year after year. So we're trying to see rumors about the pixel for a long time ago. I think before the pixel two one of the rooms, I heard that Google really wanted, like a sealed. Complete slab phones, Eurosport's zero buttons anything and we've ordered SU personal. Question. Absolutely. You've been talking about fort Louis butlers phones, for like five years. Why do you want this to happen? So don't so, so there's a spin this big delete, the vessel movement. And when you talk to manufacture as a lot of that hardware, if they can remove hardware, they will remove hardware failure, like get rid of the home button. No one's home but never fails anymore. Get rid of the headphone, Jack so much easier to make it waterproof. So someone doesn't plug in. It is water that you plug in your headphones and it shorts out, you know, there's all these things, and it just if we humans was pressing things and sticking things in they'd have their beautiful, slab and for a while effort that Google was, like, super aggressive. They just couldn't get that remote restore working, and I wonder if because they are so good at service technology, they could be the first one there, we might hate it, but they still could be the first one there. Anything could I don't think next year is the year for them to do it this year, actually either year. I think that charting speeds just aren't fast enough via wireless charging to like make that she's able regard. This of whether or not they can make Android sort of stable enough to be able to do complete control of it. There's still some weird little things that are twitchy about it. Now, if you wanna get deep into, like Android platform, nerd ary. They have started building out the pieces to make something like that possible. Because Android now, when you do an update especially entered Pia now Q, it actually downloads, the entire less into entirely separate partition, and then it just slipped. A checks up at the petition is good, and that it's us over to that one. And then they can put another update on the other one. And so it's much less likely that it's going to get into a complete failed state 'cause are always be at least one partition running known, good OS on have one last question for you. What do you think? We'll see I, I message on Android or Google camera on iphone. Man. Both of those things are incredibly unlikely because of the platform lock in decisions that each company has made. I think that for the foreseeable future Google's like number one advantage is its camera. Technology doesn't even want to share with other Android makers. So it seems unlikely that they would put it on the iphone unless there's crazy way from a make a ton of money on it. Which seems unlikely I don't think apple would give them enough camera access low level to do that in the first place. And you know, I'm s on Android. I still would like apple charge, twenty bucks a month and do it. But, you know, it seems likely apple prime you sign up for TV you get the messaging. No. You don't think do they should you can sign up for message for twenty bucks a month, but those dollars get put in a special fund that you can use on apple products down the road. And so after year, I message on Android, you would be able to go and buy an iphone and then you'd be able to, you know, have a little bit money left over by some apps, you have to replace brilliant point. They might that you might be calling I shouldn't given that way, I delay free. You. Thank you so much for joining me. Now, you bet you can find eater back lawn on social, and you can read him on the verge. And you can also watch him a bunch of their videos, and in his own processor show on the verge YouTube. Now, one of the coolest or quirkiest you tell me things about Google is how they experiment with all sorts of different products. Nexus phones old, my beer, have you seen the next cue? They'll buy nest they'll make pixel phones but also weird ass pixel tablets, but one thing they haven't made yet is anything like molecule. I've been using mine for months now, ever since nerdy, friends, Silicon Valley showed me, the results, they were getting, especially during the wildfires and couldn't believe what I was seeing. That's because molecule has technology capable of destroying air pollutants at a molecular level. It's technology has been verified by science. But more importantly, it's been tested by real people in the real world. 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I kind of think, though that Google should go the other way, just like a testbed a grand experiment, with every year, being something, new and novel that might work might have some issues, but in some way, just pushes the industry forward, and then yeah. Release the camera for every device. Boob gets even more data which they love and everyone gets better computational photography, which everyone loves gloomy. Being the best camera phone. But so what who cares has Google ever really wanted or needed to be the best camera company? They don't really withhold assistant much if at all anymore, and they really do want to be the best. I company the nerd who love Google will still by Google. So we'll people who just want a really good by Android phone. In general that be a win win. You tell me hit like hit subscribe, and then hit the comments below, and let me know where do you wanna see Google with the pixel next? Thank you so much for watching and see an ex video.