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Google's Pixel family of products will always be just a vanity project

Android figures
(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Another Google I/O has come and gone and chances are we all saw something we really liked. For some, it was Google's ambitious future Pixel family lineup of phones, a watch, earbuds, and eventually a tablet. One thing that stood out to me was the lack of fanfare around these products and the reactions from people who expected there to be more of it.

There will soon be a Pixel for everything

I know a lot of folks really like new mobile hardware and how Google does it. I'm one of those people, sort of. I want my phone or my smartwatch to sit there, be simple, and stay out of my way until I want to interact with it. This has always been what Google is good at when it comes to its phones, and while many think they lack features and that's a bad thing, some think they lack features and that's a good thing. Others think the mix is just right.

Regardless of where you fit in, you're probably never going to buy a Pixel phone or a Pixel Watch, or God forbid a Pixel Tablet. The Pixel 6 may have sold more than the Pixel 4 and the Pixel 5, but without any raw numbers — Google lumps hardware sales with subscriptions and app sales — we can only guess that Samsung sold more phones during any random month than Google has ever sold. We would probably be right.

None of this really matters because Google doesn't care about selling hardware. Offering more, possibly better, Pixel products in 2022 isn't going to change that. 

Google's business is eyeballs

Google AdSense

(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

On the surface, it's easy to think of Google as a software or services company. Everyone knows about or uses Gmail, YouTube, and Google Search. Those are essential services that many people depend on and that Google keeps a close watch on so that people will keep using and relying on them.

But Search, YouTube, and Gmail are also free for the end-user. Yes, you can buy a premium subscription to YouTube, and Google sells paid versions of GSuite that include Gmail but you don't have to do any of that. Most people using these services aren't paying a monthly or yearly fee for them. 

Google's business is ads. Plain and simple.

That doesn't mean they aren't making plenty of money for Google, though, because the more people who use Gmail or YouTube or Search the more eyeballs Google can "collect." It's all about those views.

When you watch a video on YouTube, you either paid for an ad-free experience or you get to see an ad. OK, I get it — you use an ad-blocker, but most people don't. There are ads in Search and ads in your inbox. Google has ads everywhere it seems because companies really want Google to show ads for their products; Google gets results because of how it profiles each and every user. 

Advertisers flock to Google because Google gets results.

Google doesn't care what screen those eyeballs are using to see those ads. It just wants the results and the data. As a consumer, it's easy to imagine some sort of rivalry between Google and other phone makers, but as a company, Google loves Samsung the same way it loves Apple, Motorola, and Dell. More screens from more companies mean more eyeballs.

What Google can't do is make its own products better at doing the things Google cares about because screens are screens and eyeballs are eyeballs. What it can do is make hardware for its own fanbase and afford to lose money while doing it.

Determining success

Pixel 4a and iPhone 12 mini

(Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

I want to be clear here — there is no way to tell exactly how many Pixel products Google has sold and how much money it has made — or lost — while doing it. Google doesn't give out those numbers which leads most people to think they must not be very flattering.

I am confident that Google isn't hemorrhaging money at some sort of alarming rate through its hardware division though. When that happens, assets get sold off to another company, as it did when Motorola and HTC ended up selling tech and employees to Google. 

A struggling hardware division isn't a danger to a company the size of Google.

What I really think is that Pixel phones, earbuds, watches, and even Chromebooks are just vanities or halo products so Google can show off how it thinks a thing should be done and to keep a very small number of consumers happy.

I'm not pointing fingers or saying this is a bad thing. I use a Pixel phone and I think the Google Pixelbook Go is the best Chromebook you can buy. I may be in the minority, but Google is meeting my needs so I'm happy.

And that could be a success story as far as Google is concerned. Not that I like the products, but that people like me who want them are able to buy them and mostly still like them after the purchase. It's not always about the money when it comes to the small parts of a big operation. It's about keeping people — and their eyeballs — happy.

Google will continue its Pixel line for its fans

The Pixel Watch and the Pixel 7 will arrive and some people will buy them. Most that do will enjoy them. If either can do something fabulous that my Pixel 6 can't, I might be one of them. You might be one of them, too. Either way, Google will keep making and selling them because it can.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

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.