In 2019, Google did something different and pragmatic. It launched the Pixel 3a which was a budget Pixel smartphone delivering the same acclaimed camera system at a third of the price in India. In the US, the Pixel 3a launched at half the price of the Pixel 3 which made it even more compelling. Regardless of where it was launched, the phone was and is still considered to be the best Pixel phone Google has made. Fast forward to 2020, the competition hasn’t just caught up but perhaps surpassed it. Additionally, the delays Google is facing because of the pandemic could mean that the Pixel 4a may not be appealing for consumers whenever it drops. Can Google even afford to launch yet another Pixel phone which may not succeed?
- Google faces numerous problems but the biggest one, even if it manages to launch the phone, will come to India. The Pixel 3a launched for more than Rs 40,000 in India. At the time, despite many “flagship killer” phones the Pixel 3a made humble use of its hardware and delivered a balanced product which had one killer trick – the Pixel 3a had the same camera performance than its more expensive brethren which essentially made it the best camera phone around but just cheaper. But now that has changed. Phones like the iPhone SE, OnePlus 8, Vivo X50 Pro and Mi 10 will give the Pixel 4a headaches. In terms of pure performance, these phones are going to be leaps and bounds better while these phones will compete for head-on with the Pixel even in the camera department. In fact, the iPhone SE will likely decimate the Pixel 4a on video performance, while the Mi 10 and Vivo X50 Pro will likely be formidable all around.
- On the budget side of the spectrum a phone like the OnePlus Nord which is at least Rs 10,000 cheaper than the base model of the Pixel 3a, also manages to outflank the Pixel 4a by having a very capable camera system which perhaps may not be as good, but will be close enough for most people. This phone will also have better hardware than the Pixel and have very similar software and update cycle. Even if you’re looking for the core user experience, this will be a better phone for most people.
- Google’s problems get compounded by some eccentric choices. The Pixel 4a or whatever has been leaked of the phone looks quite odd to look at. Definitely not as attractive as the OnePlus Nord or nostalgic as the iPhone SE. Google is also known to skim on the battery which doesn’t help matters. It’s after-sales in India has been frankly abysmal. There are not many reasons to own a Pixel today.
- Perhaps, the only reason to own the Pixel is the magic of its computational camera that was invented by Marc Levoy. Marc Levoy, however, left Google earlier this year. He has joined the team at Adobe who are now on a quest to create an AI-infused camera that perhaps may do what the Google Camera software did exclusively on the Pixel but now on all phones including the iPhone. Chances are Google will lose its calling card in the coming years.
With all of this is the backdrop, unless Google gets the price right and hits the sub Rs 30,000 mark with the Pixel 4a, it wouldn’t be able to launch a competitive phone — just not in India, all across the world. It certainly has messed things up a lot since the bungled launch of the Pixel 4. It really can’t afford another flop — perhaps, Rick Osterloh’s neck could be on the line if there is another flop. Perhaps, that’s why they haven’t launched the phone yet.