Where's the Google Pixel 4a? Your guess is as good as anyone's at this point. We don't know why Google hasn't announced it yet, but it's a pretty badly-kept secret that the Pixel 4a is effectively done, and it's close to launching — though it's been close for months now. And at this point, Google needs to consider just putting the brakes on it altogether and launching it as a Pixel 5a alongside the Pixel 5.
If we remember back to last year, the Pixel 3a was launched on May 7 during Google I/O — and even that was a significant delay from what we initially expected. Now we're a full 14 months removed from the Pixel 3a, and there's nothing more than a glimmer of expectation that the Pixel 4a will launch imminently. Previous leaked launch dates pointed to May and June releases, which came and went without a peep, and the latest information still points to mid-July ... though after these delays, you can't put much weight on any time frame.
The leaks we've seen, which of course are never fully accurate, have said that even if the phone launches in July, there's a good chance it won't hit many retailers until August — and some colors may not arrive until October. I understand that not everyone buys a phone — particularly a budget-focused one — on Day 1, and having various colors and spec offerings roll out over time in different markets is a fine strategy ... but that's not going to look good with the Pixel 5 hitting stores at the exact same time.
At some point, Google needs to evaluate whether it makes sense to launch a Pixel 4a within a couple months of launching the Pixel 5. Google has historically launched its high-end Pixels in early October, so it wouldn't at all be surprising to see the Pixel 5 launched the week of October 5. Does it really make sense to launch the Pixel 4a, and then the next-generation Pixel 5 roughly two months later? The optics of it are just downright bad.
It's not that the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 are direct competitors, or people will be confused over which one is better — the price points will clearly differentiate them. The issue is with making the Pixel 4a seem like it's older than it is — the whole idea of the "a" model is to capitalize on whatever brand recognition people have of Pixel phones, and offer a less-expensive version. Having a vast majority of the Pixel 4a's life overlap with a next-generation Pixel 5 just looks bad, and makes the 4a look outdated when it isn't. Especially as Google hopes to continue selling the Pixel 4a well into 2021.
I have to imagine that some sort of contingency plan is in place for a situation in which the Pixel 4a's ship date slips even further. This late in the product development process, it's a big undertaking (and probably too big) to change everything from marketing materials down to device packaging to make the Pixel 4a miraculously turn into the Pixel 5a. But it is honestly the best thing Google could do if there are factors outside of its control delaying the launch to the point where the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 are launching in close succession. Because the way it looks now, Google's going to launch a phone that it really needs to succeed with a nearly year-old model name on it.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.