Google shocked everyone watching Keynote speech at I/O 2022 This week, a whole bunch of upcoming Pixel devices were revealed next year at the usually device-free developer event. While I’m excited to see what the fully realized Pixel ecosystem will look like, I can’t help but wonder what impact it could have on the broader Android market.
Google has been immersed in the hardware industry for quite some time now, over a decade if you count the Nexus line that debuted in January 2010. However, things escalated when it bought Motorola and Nest in 2011 and 2014, respectively. While the former didn’t work as well as many likely hoped, Google’s senior vice president of devices and services Rick Osterloh, former president and chief operating officer of Motorola, has been an integral part of the company’s hardware efforts.
Between the Pixel phones, Pixel Buds, and the Nest family of products, you’d say Google is on the cutting edge, but with the addition of the Pixel Watch and Pixel Tablet sometime next year, it’s jumping to the deep end. The question is whether Google will manage an agile dive that doesn’t make too many waves in the larger Android ecosystem or the full cannon.
Here’s a closer look at what Google has planned and what it might mean for Android.
Witness the power of the Pixel ecosystem fully equipped and up and running
When Google launched the original Pixel in 2016, it was well received by reviewers, but not much of a commercial success. This was a constant theme of the lineup until the launch of the less expensive Pixel A-Series, and now Google has finally announced that the Pixel 6 has already outperformed the Pixel 4 and Pixel 5 together.
The point is, the Pixel has never been any kind of serious threat to the market share of other Android manufacturers like Samsung or Motorola. As such, some of the Pixel-exclusive features that Google introduced with its in-house phones, such as Now unfortunately the unlimited photo and video storage is gone for freeAnd, more recently, cool camera features like Magic Eraser and Face Unblur were nothing to worry about for its Android competitors.
With this week’s announcements, the dynamic can change. Right now, even the most die-hard Pixel fan can rely solely on the brand for their phone and earphone needs. If they are in the market for a tablet or smartwatch, they should look elsewhere. This in turn opens up for the buyer to consider the rest of the lineup from another manufacturer as everyone seems to have learned from Apple’s motto “the ecosystem is king”.
Surround computing, or the idea that your network of devices should stay out of your way while ensuring you always have what you need, was one of the main themes of Pixel ads during the keyword, and Google calls it “better together.” While opinions about Apple products may differ, it’s hard to deny that the company has the most cohesive ecosystem of products that work best when the user is fully purchased. Samsung is certainly working toward the same goal across its lineup, but while Samsung works closely with Google, it’s not ultimately in complete control of the fate of its software.
Google has been pushing this idea since at least 2019, and it has appeared in programs like Fast Pair that allow quick and easy connections between devices without complications. Notably, this is not something Google limits itself to its own products; Quick pairing is available for use by anyone. However, if Google hits its release dates, it will have a fully operational ecosystem by the end of 2023. Plus, it could keep some of its best integrations for itself to create the Googlefied version of the walled utopia that Apple fans love.
Discussions about Better Together and the focus on creating a ubiquitous network of devices for users came as an introduction to the presentation section on Google Devices. Google highlighted a number of its partners during the keyword, but we didn’t get close to anything You can wear a Samsung-supported operating system a moment from I/O 2021.
Be careful not to stifle your aspirations
It’s unfortunate that I landed on two quotes from the dark side, but I’m sticking with them. While there’s a chance that the Google hardware ecosystem may alienate some Android manufacturers, there are a few critical reasons why I don’t ultimately think it’s a big concern — even if new Google products find a significant amount of commercial success.
The biggest reason is that it is not in Google’s best interest. Google is an advertising company first and foremost. It derives far more profit from the billions of non-Pixel devices running Android than it can hope to get from even the most widely successful forecast for the Pixel ecosystem I outlined above. This is the primary reason I find most assertions about user privacy from Google to be deceptive because it will essentially destroy the entire Google business model if you break trust with its users.
So this deals with Google taking the Android ball and going home, but looking at the other side of the coin, where are other Android manufacturers heading? We’ve seen efforts by Samsung, Huawei, and others to build their own operating system and they have failed globally. If Samsung can’t manage it, it’s safe to say that none of the other Android manufacturers have the ability to do so. Given that it becomes hard to imagine what Google might have to do in order to force one of the other Android manufacturers, let alone all of them, to try to go elsewhere.
Going back to the original question I asked with the title, could the Pixel ecosystem be the death of Android as we know it? Yes, not in the sense that it will kill her, but rather radically change her. I hope Google’s hardware ecosystem helps bolster some of the historically weak areas of Android, tablets and wearables, and that the underlying software that makes Pixel devices “better together” runs across Android rather than benefiting Google alone. If Google can make it happen, it will make the next several years in the mobile world a lot more interesting.