If the Pixel 6 can't compete with the dull-as-dirt iPhone 13, Google will never win
Last week's Apple Event was a bit of a snoozefest. On the one hand, the new iPad Mini impressed even the most hardcore Android fans as a compact slate for consuming media. On the other hand, the regular iPad underwhelmed with its still-giant bezels and last-gen chip, the Apple Watch 7 had no major design or sensor updates (and still has no release date), and there were no new laptops or M2/M1X chips to be found.
But what really blew me away with its mediocrity was the iPhone 13. As much as I enjoyed the cute Knives Out knock-off home video, the announcement didn't have any other stand-out moments. Instead, it simply moved us through all the requisite beats that every phone release trailer has: A brighter display than ever! Longer battery life than ever before! Faster than competing brands by a vague metric!
The only "major" improvement is that the iPhone 13 Pro will get a 120Hz LTPO display with variable refresh rate. The OnePlus 9 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra already have that, but to be honest, Apple always lags behind other brands. Being "only" a year behind the competition is an improvement.
Aside from the smaller notch and the upgraded A15 Bionic chip, the iPhone 13 isn't a major update on the iPhone 12. Rather than provide concrete specs or benchmarks, Apple pushed the usual platitudes, then focused half of the event on its new camera lenses and video features. Its 12MP cameras fall well short of most of the best Android phones, but its ProRes 4K videos could make the 13 a popular choice for YouTubers or TikTokers.
The question is, will a vague spec sheet and uninspiring launch do anything to reduce sales? CNBC reported that 250 million iPhone users currently have phones three years or older. A huge, loyal base of users may upgrade simply because of their aging hardware, and compared to the iPhone X or XR, the iPhone 13 is a considerable improvement.
I'm curious whether or not Android phones can peel away just a few million of those loyal users. Specifically, the Pixel 6 Pro, which seems the most likely phone to be able to go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 13 Pro.
Google's most Apple-like phone
I've used iPhones pretty loyally for a decade before switching from iOS to Android, and I have a pretty good sense of what Apple users look for compared to Android fans. And the Pixel 6 could bridge that gap and bring over some adventurous iPhone users.
First, the Pixel 6 will (according to credible rumors) get 5 years of software updates. Apple users may upgrade every few years, but they like having the option to keep a phone for much longer. And they're also used to prompt updates as soon as a new OS launches. Compared to other Android phones — which get three years of updates at most, and often receive those updates the following calendar year — the Pixel 6 has the longevity and speedy stock updates that Apple fans take for granted.
Then you have to consider the Pixel 6's design, with its two-tone colors and eye-catching rear camera bump. Apple's hardware design history is full of striking, multicolored tech, and we saw how much that still appeals to Apple fans by the response to its many-hued iMacs. The iPhone 13 has its colorful backs, too, but that's just colorful icing on a bland vanilla cake.
The eye-catching, playful colors also extend to the Pixel 6's software. Android 12 and its new Material You design language instills color into every menu, button, and icon on your phone. Plus, its color extraction tool automatically changes the color of your menus based on your current wallpaper. While Android phones are all about customization, the Pixel 6 has a stock launcher with colorful tricks that Apple converts can enjoy without diving into settings.
On that same note, the Pixel 6 gives Apple users a stock app experience that they'll appreciate. Apple phones have some apps that you could uncharitably call bloatware, which is why many iPhone owners already rely on Google apps for their day-to-day lives. Being able to use those same apps as default apps will make the transition to a new phone much more straightforward. Meanwhile, other Samsung or OnePlus flagships have their own app stores along with Google's, which I think will be too messy and complicated for iPhone owners.
Finally, you have the Pixel 6's rumored 50MP primary camera. The iPhone 13 will undoubtedly win the battle for best video quality, but for people who take fewer videos and more photos, Google will be the more attractive option if it markets its Pixel 6 properly. Not only is its sensor more powerful, but Google's automatic AI improvements to photos will sound very appealing to iPhone owners who want to take quick, high-quality snapshots.
Google needs to go for broke
We don't have iPhone pre-order sales numbers yet, but SCMP reports that Apple has already sold 2 million iPhone 13 units in China. And iMore detailed the issues people faced when trying to preorder Apple hardware. Was traffic so high that the company couldn't handle it?
Meanwhile, Pixel sales have trended downwards in the past couple of years. We know that Google sold 7.2 million Pixels in 2019, with initial sales for the Pixel 4 lower than the Pixel 3 in its first two quarters. Then Nikkei Asia reported last year that Google only planned to sell 800,000 Pixel 5 phones and about 2 million Pixel 4a and 4a 5G handsets.
Google's mid-range flagships just haven't sold! In our tests, they've consistently outperformed their mid-range hardware thanks to Google's optimizations; but Android shoppers have gone for faster Samsung hardware or the cheaper Pixel "a" phones instead.
In 2021, Google will release a proper flagship with a beautiful display, flashy software, powerful cameras, and a self-made Google Tensor chipset. If all goes well, it'll attract Android and Apple fans in equal measure, with the specs Android fans will appreciate and the intangibles that exacting Apple fans want in a phone experience.
But that'll only happen if Google goes all-out on its marketing campaign. Obsessive tech fans ate up Pixel 6 rumors and leaks for months, but it's unclear how much the general public cares about Pixels — except as a budget brand. Google needs to have its own "think different" commercial moment and push its flashy phone as the exciting alternative to Apple's boring-ass, incremental phone upgrade.
Will it happen? Google has a tendency to let its products speak for themselves, then kill them off when they languish without proper marketing. I can only hope Google realizes that if the Pixel 6 fails to make a mark against Apple's weakest phone since the iPhone 8, it'll permanently mark the Pixel brand as a minor player in the smartphone arena.
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Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.
Google in general isn’t known for trust , supporting the long term , or privacy which are other blockers for people not switching.
Switching to an unfamiliar platform isn’t seen as a positive either (my wife’s view).
At the end of the day both platforms pretty much do the same thing but with a different approach / presentation layer.
this is 100% spot on. Not to mention that Google, no matter how hard they try, aren't available direct from All 3 carriers. Google can only get support from one carrier at a time.
Plus, the Pixel 6 is too big for a Lot of people. to make the Smallest device 6.4" is just dumb. I have the pixel 5 and do not want anything bigger. My iPhone is the Mini, and LOVE the size. I do plan to go to the 13 Pro and at 6.1" that is already too big, but I can deal with it. I wish Apple would have kept the 5.8" smaller device.
I do not want 6.4" and 6.7" devices.
Since Google made two phones this year, they should have made the smaller one 6.1" with the same polycarbonate back like the S21 (or same back material as Pixel 5) and the larger the 6.7" glass sandwich.
Google is never going to make a dent in the Apple sales market, They ALWAYS do dumb stuff and Always have some sort of build quality issue on EVERY single phone they've ever released.
They should drop the 888 and new Cam into the pixel 5 and sell it in addition to these new models.
The quality of the pixel is still unknown since it is not released. While the quality of the iphone is going to be just like their previous models....great. I say all this as a Pixel 4XL owner, who really likes my phone. However, this new pixels has no appeal to be AT THIS TIME. Time does tend to make ugly things better so in six months I might like it. But I have to admit, Samsung is looking good if I want to stay with Android, but that iPhone 13 looks good too. But again, MY OPINION.
It is an Android centric website but no need to troll the other side :p
Author didn’t provide any reason for loyal Apple users to switch to Pixel 6. Yes, google is catching up with updates. Yes, stock android is better than ever. So what? What are the reasons for iPhone users to switch? Because iPhone 13 isn’t so much better than iPhone 12? And? iPhone 11 was already better than Pixel 6. So? Because Pixel 6 is almost as good as iPhone (for the reasons you mentioned)? So? As you rightly said there is a huge number of iPhone users with iPhones 3-year old and older, that is the target for iPhone 13. Again, as you rightly mentioned, iPhone users tend to hold on their devices longer compared to android users that just like to shell out their money every year because their “flagships” turn into pumpkin (in their minds). Pixel 6’s target audience is other android flagships’ users, and of course that twelve Pixel fans. And since there is almost zero brand loyalty among android users (they mostly look for specs and price) it is going to be really hard to compete with Samsung, OnePlus, and others. Unless Google will price it low.
"I'm curious whether or not Android phones can peel away just a few million of those loyal users."
Maybe Android but defintely not Pixel. The iPhone is available pretty much worldwide while the Pixel phones are only available in a handful countries. For example, the Pixel 5 is only available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, United Kingdom and United States.