We initially expected to see the new Pixel 4a launch in May, coinciding with the Google I/O conference. Then, I/O got cancelled, and rumors pointed to an early June launch. Now, the latest information from noted Apple (and now Google) leaker Jon Prosser points to a mid-July announcement and eventual on-shelf launch of August 6. And the reasoning given makes sense: it's economical, not technological.
No, there doesn't seem to be any issue with the Pixel 4a's hardware, or its software. There probably isn't a problem with performance or some radio certification. And we knew it wasn't going to have 5G. Prosser points out something that makes complete sense: the phone's ready to go, physically, but this isn't a great time to launch a new phone from a business perspective. Remember the saying, "you never get a second chance to make a good first impression." Early impressions of phones based on early sales do matter, and now's a bad time to rack up early sales.
The extra month 'delay' is economical, not technological.
U.S. consumer spending in March was down by 7.5% according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which is a huge shift — most months the change is in fractions of a percent. We don't yet have April data, but you can imagine it was even worse. The COVID-19 pandemic may be slowing down for many areas, but the economic impacts are massive and will continue to hit some industries much harder than others. Retail sales in general haven't been hit that heavily by the stay-at-home orders and business restrictions, but the effects on discretionary purchases like new phones have been hit as people look more critically at their uncertain financial futures.
In a bit of coincidental news, rumors point to Amazon pushing back its annual Prime Day event from July to September. Prime Day is mostly about buying those things in the "want" category, rather than "need" category — and a new phone, in most cases, is a need. Even though this is the "inexpensive" Pixel, which helps Google in this case, it still isn't the best retail environment to be selling anything that's going to cost around $400 and in all likelihood replace a working phone you already have.
It's just not great to launch a new phone when people are tightening their budgets.
Giving the world, and the U.S. in particular, time to rebound economically before launching a new phone makes sense. As previously noted, Google's hardware business is inconsequentially small to the company's bottom line — so there's really no scramble to get the Pixel 4a out and start making money on it. To put it simply, Google can afford to wait another month; the optics of a slow launch are in some ways more damaging than a whole month of lost sales on the balance sheet.
At the moment, Google still sells discounted Pixel 3a and 3a XLs, which fills the gap for people who need a budget-focused phone and have Pixels in mind right now. And for the rest of us who care enough to know the Pixel 4a is on the horizon, we can probably handle waiting just a little longer.
The current mid-range champ
Still a phenomenal value a year on
Although we're now eagerly looking forward to the Pixel 4a, the Pixel 3a is still worthy of your consideration. It has an impressive spec sheet, takes gorgeous photos, and will keep getting updates and security patches through May 2022. It's also come down in price since its initial release, making it even more affordable.
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