With all the fervent rumormongering regarding the next batch of Pixel smartphones, it seems an appropriate time to take a look at several of the theories making the rounds about how many millions of Pixel and Pixel XL units Google has actually sold.
The phone launched eight months ago and has remained a strong seller at Verizon, where it was marketed as an exclusive (it's not; it's also sold unlocked in the Google Store). Regardless, that was certainly a winning strategy, as 7.5% of all phone activations on Verizon late last year (since the phones launched) were a Pixel or Pixel XL. (Sadly, thanks in part to a disjointed marketing strategy, other carriers only ranked in at 2% for the same end-of-2016 time period.)
So, we know the phone is selling relatively well with the help of the carrier that was heavily marketing it as an exclusive. But how well did it sell for Google? According to Ars Technica, it just barely hit a million units:
Unlike just about every hardware manufacturer on Earth, Google doesn't share official sales numbers for the Pixel phones, choosing to bundle the income under Alphabet's "Other Revenues" during earnings reports. We do have one very solid signal for Pixel sales, though: the Play Store, which shows install numbers for apps. If there was an app that was exclusive and install-by-default on the Pixel phones, like say, the Pixel Launcher, the install number would basically be the number of sold activated phones.
This calculation is complicated by the fact that Google Play doesn't show exact install numbers; it shows installs in "tiers" like "100,000-500,000." So most of the time, we won't have an exact Pixel sales number—except when the Pixel Launcher crosses from one download tier to another. So guess what just happened? The Pixel Launcher just crossed into the "1,000,000-5,000,000" install tier (you can see some third-party tracking sites, like AppBrain, still have it listed at 500,000). So for this one moment in history, eight months after launch, we can say Google finally sold a million Pixel phones.
Since there aren't any official sales numbers offered by Google (or Alphabet, as it were), the guesstimate is based on the number of downloads of the Pixel Launcher in the Play Store. The result paints a rather grim picture, however, which didn't seem to be the case when we initially pored over Verizon's Q3 2016 finance reports:
Let's look at Verizon's Q3 2016 earnings report, where we can see it activates roughly 8 million phones per quarter. If you assume Verizon activates a similar number in Q4, that'd average out to 600,000 Pixels activated at Verizon in the first three months...
Last year, the company had a record of activating roughly 8 million phones a quarter. If we assume Verizon maintained a consistent number of Pixels activated per quarter — 7.5% of 8 million, which makes it about 600,000 units — then that puts the number at close to 2 million units, on Verizon alone, since the initial debut. The result then gives less credence to the idea that only a measly million units were sold.
Overall, we don't know how Google actually calculates its Play Store install numbers, but based on what we know about Verizon's sales we certainly can't make the inference based solely on the number of installs displayed in the Play Store.
What we do know is that Google still has a long journey ahead of it before its branded smartphones sell as well as Apple's iPhones (or any of the dozens of companies surely above Google's sales currently). There sure are plenty of Android users in the world, but only a small fraction of them are on the Pixel or Pixel XL.