Watching the reviews and general response to the Pixel 4 devices, I’ve had these thoughts for a while but they are now clear after getting my hands on one and using it.
While the Pixel 4 is a good phone (maybe even a great phone) there are three bets Google made this year which just didn’t work. Compounding the impact of these missteps is that for each bet Google got wrong, Apple got it right.
Google Bet #1: Pixel 3 series battery life would be sufficient for the Pixel 4
The battery life on the Pixel line has never been spectacular; but they have gotten a pass previously because of the user experience and camera quality. For the Pixel 4, Google bet that matching the previous year’s battery figures would be good enough.
However in a year where Apple doubled down on battery life (specifically with the 11 Pro series) it really put the spotlight on the average battery life on the Pixel; despite it being no worse than previous years.
Google Bet #2: Improving the camera system strengths instead of fixing its weaknesses
Two key camera features Google improved on for the Pixel 4 were the two functions it already was leading the field in: Super Res Zoom and Night mode. While it is an improvement and technically impressive, they have limited value to new customers let alone existing Pixel owners.
Where Apple has made a giant leap in photo quality to make a valid argument for the best photography crown; Google choice not to improve in other areas seems like a miss. The existing Achilles heel of Google’s camera system, video, remains virtually unchanged in the face of Apple’s increasing lead in the category.
Google Bet #3: Soli radar as the Pixel 4 exciting new feature
Technically this is really cool, but in reality there aren’t many reasons to be excited about using gestures instead of just your touch screen. It’s a solution looking for a problem, not helped by the fact that it’s execution seems under cooked at launch.
Apple’s new feature this year: Ultra wide photography. Taking a key item people buy smartphones for and adding new functionality and capability in line with the current photography trends.
In addition to these bets gone wrong, this year’s Pixels also seem like a deviation from previous models. Instead of feeling like Google’s version of the iPhone, focusing on experiences instead of features; it feels like a development phone for Google’s hardware and software ambitions.
In many ways this phone doesn’t feel like a Pixel, but a Nexus. If they had priced in the spirit of the old label, the reception would have been far more positive.