Google getting serious about selling phones could be a way to show how good Android can really be.
On October 4 we all get to see Google's plans for the next year when it comes to Android and the phones (and other stuff) that use it. That's only a few days away. We'll see flat screens and phone-shaped slabs of metal and glass that some will love and some will hate. Basically, the same thing we see every year. But I think we're also going to see something new from the company. In fact, we've already seen a glimpse of it during Monday Night Football and rumored the rest to death — Google cares about making phones people want to buy and selling as many of them as they can.
Also, a moment to express how lucky we are to have Alex Dobie. He is all over every Pixel rumor in ways that could be illegal in the Bible Belt and sorts through them so you know what's worth talking about without having to wade through the crap. Thanks, Alex!
A Chromebook-style experience is what can happen when Google gets their own way. Android needs some of that.
Not that Google didn't care before. They surely wanted the Nexus phones to meet the expectations of the people buying them, and no company likes to lose money. But the few phones sold with the Nexus brand on the back were a drop in the bucket when it comes to Google's business model and the money they make from every phone from Apple, Samsung, LG or the rest of the companies selling them. Google is everywhere and in everything it seems, and they're going to make money from ads and marketing whether you're using a Nexus 6P or an iPhone 7. That isn't going to change if they get serious about selling their own phones. This might be about taking control.
I've spoken many times (far too many times, probably) about why Google can't do a damn thing when Samsung won't update a phone or when HTC doesn't deliver on promised dates for security releases. Their hands are tied because Android is not something they sell or license like Google branded apps and the Play Store are. And using those as leverage will likely get Google in even more hot water over the monopoly they enjoy in the mobile space. The Play Store isn't a soccer ball that they can grab and take home when they don't like the way things are going. Google is doing things to make Android a little more modular, yet we're still seeing companies make 100 or more different models and only really caring about one or two of them. For the people who bought those other models, the idea that Android sucks is very real. Making their own high-end consumer hardware gives Google their own space where they are in charge of it all and will let people see that maybe it's the company name you see on the back that sucks and not the software they use for free.
They're good at it, too. Anyone who uses a Chromebook knows that having Google dictate how things on the software side will be and how they will change can be better than having ASUS and Acer and HP and everyone else just doing their own thing. The experience is solid and consistent across a wide range of hardware because of it. If HP (for example) doesn't like it, they are free to take the Chromium source and build their own better vision of it. Canonical does, as do many other independent Linux software teams. I wish HP or ASUS would do it, too, but that's another article for another day. But to get that Chrome logo, they need to play ball and follow strict guidelines. Android needs an injection of this, but that won't happen. The next best thing is Google doing it as an example.
A Pixel phone gives Google a space to show the world how to do it right. It's their Lumia.
Making two high-end phones with all the bells and whistles, just as ready for the future as they are today is a step in the right direction. Buying billboards and commercial space during sports events so people know you're doing it is another step. Speculation about having a well-trained support staff that you can reach anytime from anywhere through the phone's settings points to yet another. If Google builds a better mousetrap and makes sure everyone knows they built a better mousetrap, the world may beat a path to their door.
I'm still not convinced that Google will go as far as publicly shaming partners (as was rumored earlier this year) when it comes to not caring enough about security or your experience or if that would even be necessary. This does fit right in with a Google that's serious about showing people what Android can be, though. (And I would love to see it happen.) The Pixel brand can be Google's Lumia. It could fail as hard as Microsoft's Lumia did. But if they can position themselves as the leader when it comes to making Android phones, other companies will be inclined to follow them or compete in a different way. Or just step out of the way.
Now all they need to do is actually build a better mousetrap. We'll find out in a few days.