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Android 12's bold new design shows that Google is finally taking the Pixel brand seriously

Google Io 2021 Keynote Android 12 Material You
Google Io 2021 Keynote Android 12 Material You (Image credit: Google)

We'll soon see a sixth year of Google building its own phones under the Pixel brand. Pixel 6 leaks and rumors look really interesting, and if even half of them turn out to be correct, we should see a heck of a phone when it comes to the market this fall. But hardware is only half the equation; if you're Google, it's even less than half.

Google is and always has been a software company. Most of the services Google produces are applications and software that people love, even though there are plenty of other things about the company that we love a lot less. Google has been under fire lately over privacy issues, but it's worth remembering that Google has never hidden how it makes its money. We agreed to give our details away in exchange for services like Android, Google Photos, or Chrome because they really are that good.

We'll talk more about privacy concerns and controversies in the future because both matter, but right now, let's have a look at Android 12. Android 12 brings some pretty big changes under the hood that make it more secure, protect our private data, and give us more control over it all. But the elephant in the room is, of course, the bold redesign that Google is calling Material You.

You may love what you see in Material You, or you may hate it. You'll probably love or hate it even more once you actually get a chance to see the final changes on actual phones when Android 12 finally launches this fall. Personally, I'm not feeling it, but I like things to be very clean and simple, which puts me in the minority. That's important — not the part about what I like, but the part that says I'm in the minority. Most people seem to like what they've seen so far.

Samsung's version of Android 12 will look like Samsung's version of Android 11.

Another important thing is that you're not going to see anything at all like Google showed us at I/O 2021 on the vast majority of Android phones when Android 12 rolls out. Companies like Samsung and Xiaomi (along with other popular Chinese brands) are the companies that sell almost every Android phone, and they have their own look and feel that won't be abandoned.

I'm essentially saying that the Material You that we've been shown so far will only live on Google's Pixel line and other phones that follow Google's lead when it comes to "stock" Android. The most striking bit of Material You — the system colors being pulled from your wallpaper and used in all your Google apps and widgets — is Pixel-exclusive at launch, and we have no idea when even other "stock" Android phones might see it.

Here's where things get really interesting. Material You and the new Android 12 UI look a lot like what Samsung gives us with its current version of One UI. At least on the surface, anyway. There is no one-to-one comparison, but the general look with large UI components, colorful controls, customizability, and readability are things that Samsung has been doing for well over a year, and people absolutely love it.

Yes, I'm saying that Google is trying to make the Pixel phone interface look and act more like Samsung's. Fight me.

Android 12 Color Extraction

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

I think Google is doing this because it finally cares about selling Pixel phones. That doesn't mean the company didn't care before, but now there is a strong push to make the Pixel line sell well enough to at least try to turn a profit. The Pixel 6 is going to try and compete in a way that the previous Pixel phones never did with Pixel-only features like free "high-quality" photo storage in Google Photos, deep integration with your smart home, the best camera on any phone, and now a user interface that will appeal to more people.

Google isn't satisfied unless it is at the top.

Google is all about finding a way to grab the market by its nether regions and claw its way to the top of it. We've seen it from the company's inception — Google Search changed the way we all use the internet. Chrome and its success was a direct response to the question of how Google could take on Microsoft and Internet Explorer. Chromebooks were Google's response to those cheap netbooks we all loved to hate on. If Google is going to make a smartphone, it has plans to make the best-selling smartphone.

Android 12 Privacy Indicators Toggles

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

This doesn't mean Google will be successful. A lot depends on how Google will leverage its own silicon and new smartphone SoC debuting inside the Pixel 6 — yes, I'm certain that's going to happen. The Pixel 5 showed that Google could make a phone that is satisfying to use even on mid-range silicon, but it used an off-the-shelf SoC from Qualcomm. With its own chip, Google can create the perfect Android smartphone platform to rival the best Android phones today.

The Pixel 6's hardware is still a question mark — it may be terrible. But on the software side, Google is poised to take the Pixel 6 mainstream across North America, Europe, and Japan. It could be a huge success, or it could backfire, but at least Google would be showing up for the fight.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

28 Comments
  • I have to agree that Android 12's design which I absolutely love is a statement of intent that Google is serious about the Pixel brand and now they're going to be making their own in house Socs, hopefully Pixel phones will eventually rival Apple in software support as rigid now 3 years of software and security updates is a good start but Samsung has upped the ante with 4 years of security patches but only Google officially guarantees this though. Oh and I'm also in that minority in liking things simple and clean and that's what draws me to the Pixels and why my S20 FE will be my first and last Samsung phone along with the Material You design being Pixel exclusive and just because Google is copying the look and feel of Samsung's One UI doesn't mean its abandoning the things that make the Pixel a Pixel in look and feel.
  • You actually managed to work two periods in there. 😉
  • Hahaha, genuinely shocking!
  • Where will I ever be without the grammar police?
  • Not being funny Beno but you've jumped from Pixel to Apple to Samsung and now talking about Pixel again after slaughtering it for being a ipixel few weeks back? I think you need to own a few different handsets as one isn't enough.
  • He changes his mind on phones more than most people change their underwear lol. It is a phone, nothing to get attached to. 
  • Yep...by September he'll have completed the circle and will be back to bashing Samsung lol
  • You're right, but with the Pixel I'm 100% sure about what I want, I own about 3 phones already which are an iPhone 11 Pro Max, OnePlus 7T (cracked display) and my S20 FE, I've owned a few phones already but
    I'm certain that the Pixel is the phone that suits me best as I have always enjoyed Google phones the most starting with a Nexus 6 and a 2 XL as Google's Pixel software is my favourite, Google Pixel has everything I need, it's clean and simple and very elegant to me, also it's very optimised and has quick and guaranteed updates even if the Pixel isn't always as quick as Samsung in getting security updates but it is quicker in getting software updates than Samsung though but I know that Samsung has improved in both areas but I use mostly Google apps and services so the Pixel makes sense to me and I won't be switching back and forth anymore. The only reason I got rid of my Pixel 2 XL was because I was in a bad place in my life and in the height of a drug addiction and my 2 XL is the phone I regret selling the most as its the phone I enjoyed using the most followed by my Nexus 6 and they're both Google phones although the 2 XL was a true Google produced phone. And no I won't be back to bashing Samsung, I have a lot of respect for Samsung but their software isn't for me.
  • Funny thing. You were 100% certain that ios14 was going to decimate Google. You were due of this even before that update launched. You were leaving Android and never coming back. That surety certainly didn't last long.
  • All fair points, if not for my sister, I'd leave iPhone for good as she's the reason I still have my 11 Pro Max and I find iOS boring now but with the Pixel it's going to be very different, Pixel has always been the Android phone that I like the most, I know I bashed the Pixel but I was just trying to convince myself that I loved One UI but I just don't, don't worry i won't be bashing Samsung or anyone else once I have my Pixel 4a 5G in the summer, I can say that I have at least try Samsung's software and there is a lot to like and understand why people love One UI but I'm not one of them as I've always been a pure Android, especially Google's pure Android kind of person, because of its simplicity, clean and simple UI which I prefer over loads of features that I'll never make use of. And updates are very important to me as as getting quickly which is simply not the case with my S20 FE with updates coming later and later in the last couple of months. With a Pixel I'll get piece of mind with getting actual notifications for updates without having to check manually like on my S20 FE.
  • Holy run-on sentences. You will be all on the pixel until the next Samsung flagship then the pixel will be "boring" and the cycle will continue. 
  • Not true, I'm 200% sure I'll remain with a Pixel, I value fast updates that are consistent along with a clean UI and I use mostly Google apps and services so a Pixel makes more sense to me, why would I want to give up Pixel exclusives like day 1 software updates, pure Android and that Now Playing feature that you won't find on any other phone. I enjoyed Google phones the most and nothing else comes close to the enjoyment that I had with both my Nexus 6 and Pixel 2 XL, especially my 2 XL. And that's the absolute truth. I will still follow Samsung as they push Android forward more than Google but for software I prefer Google's implementation of Android.
  • Do you really think anyone reads more than 20% of any of your 'messages' due to the painful composition of your writing?
  • There's nothing wrong with the way I write, but you're entitled to your opinion but excuse me for not giving a barnacle about what you or anyone else thinks.
  • It appears (but I'll make the decision once they're released) that I'll be replacing our Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 with new Pixel 6 phones later this fall. While our current Pixels have been excellent, I like what I read about the new models.
  • I don't necessarily think Google is trying to emulate Samsung as much as they are borrowing elements they think are popular. Google has continually separated the core from the UI with every new version. As that happens, Google can implement its own more robust UI changes to distinguish the Pixel line. It can also still offer an easier path for OEMs to tweak newer versions of Android without a lot of overhead costs. This is evident in Samsungs announcement to bring version updates to more of their lower end phones. Samsung has also announced plans to abandon their version of Android (Tizen) on multiple platforms. I personally like the more simplistic approaching to pure Android, but I get that a lot of people want "new" looks as much as functionality.
  • I prefer a clean and uncluttered look and Samsung's UI is cluttered and I don't like the look of Samsung's icons and I'm using Lawnchair as my launcher as I've realised I'm not really a fan of the One UI looks and prefer the Pixel UI. I'm looking forward to going back to where I belong, using a Pixel when I get my Pixel 4a 5G.
  • Can I ask why you'd go with the Pixel 4a 5G and not just go for the Pixel 5? it will become even more cheaper over next few months or off for the Pixel 6 surely at this point?
  • I want the 4a 5G because of the bigger display as I'm visually impaired and because the 4a 5G is cheaper. Hopefully the 4a 5G will be even cheaper by the time I get it in August.
  • Roberta Duran showed up one time for a fight with Sugar Ray and screamed NO MAS. So, he showed up for a fight and quit. Will Google do the same? Time will tell.
  • Pixel 6 will definitely show up for the fight, software is Google's forte.
  • The way people affix emotional feelings to corporate entities is a really weird phenomenon
  • At this point, everyone has their own take on Android to the point that there really is no such thing as "stock Android". Perhaps you can find that in some developer builds somewhere but even Material is a customization on a base OS. That said, what Google lacks, that Samsung and Apple have, is an ecosystem. Even more so Samsung than Apple. Samsung phones integrate with Samsung TVs, Smart Things and other Samsung products. Google has a lot, don't get me wrong but when you compare everything around it, Samsung and Apple are clear leaders. Samsung TVs? Popular. Samsung Phones? Popular. As the article pointed out, Google is a software company. Just having a Pixel as your hardware line isn't going to make people jump that are well invested in other ecosystems, just like its hard for Samsung or Apple users to jump sides to each other when they are well invested in their current brand ecosystem.
  • I'm not invested in either Samsung or Apple's ecosystems and I use more Google apps and services than anything else and I value guaranteed updates that are consistent and have always loved the Pixel software so a Pixel makes more sense to me and I don't care that Pixels aren't as popular as Samsung or Apple.
  • Google has an ecosystem as well in their Pixelbooks, Google Nest Hubs, Chromecasts and their services and Google's services are more used than both Apple's and Samsung's.
  • I think sometimes people mistake ecosystem for exclusive features. Apple only makes software for their own hardware. Samsung uses Android for their phones and uses Tizen only on their watches and TVs. Google, on the other hand, holds platforms (Android, Wear and Chrome OS) that are used by multiple OEMs. The only truly comparable company, IMO, is Microsoft. When Google introduces a new feature, it does so not just for their own devices but all partners. Sure, some features come a lot earlier for Pixel devices, but they will eventually trickle down to other OEMs. That does not mean there isn't a Google ecosystem. When I use my Lenovo laptop I'm able to see my Pixel's notifications, reply to messages and use my phone as a WiFi hotspot, all from ChromeOS. From my Fossil smartwatch I'm able to triage phone notifications, reply to messages, ping my phone when I can't find it, and create notes in Keep, that I can then check and modify on my phone or laptop. I can ask my Google Home to play a show on Netflix on my Sony Android TV and Android 12 will have a TV remote buit-in the OS. That is an ecosystem, a pretty good one, IMO. And one that doesn't force me to buy all my hardware from the same OEM.
  • This guys gets it.
  • "Google is poised to take the Pixel 6 mainstream across North America, Europe, and Japan." I hope that means Google will actually allow me to buy a Pixel in my country, without having to import it. Google really needs to expand the availibility of their products. As far as Material You goes, I've been running the beta since it came out and I'm loving it so far. Even as a beta everything already feels very poilished and the new UI animations are pretty cool.