Go with me for a minute. If you haven’t seen the brilliant move by Google’s hardware team, let’s cover that quickly. In the last few days, the leak train began with the Pixel 4. First there were renders, then there were case models (the metal slabs provided to case makers ahead of time for them to form cases around the physical phone) and then, out of left field, an actual tweet by the Google hardware team that went something like this:
And just like that, the Pixel 4’s backside is completely confirmed by Google. No rumors, no wondering whether or not it is all a cover up, no Pixel 3 shenanigans. This is what the Pixel 4 will look like from the back, and that backside includes a multi-camera/sensor module that dominates the surface while dropping the fingerprint scanner.
In short, we’re going to see some cool tricks from the camera for sure and we’re also hearing rumblings of Project Soli finally coming to fruition in the Pixel 4. We wrote about this years ago and thought it was being tested in a Chromebook, but the basic idea is the same: radar being used to detect fine movements nearby a device. Check out Google’s video about the project from back then.
The ramifications of this tech are pretty clear: media controls, gesture navigations, Google Assistant controls, etc. When I first heard that Project Soli might land in the Pixel 4, I was interested. When Google tweeted what they did yesterday, I sat up and began taking notice. If Google bakes this into the Pixel 4, you bet a quote like “Wait ’til you see what it can do” is very warranted.
So, we have our first clues to some new stuff Google is planning for the next Pixel phone, but why do I think this could signal a move to an earlier date for the event? Let’s look at a few things.
Competing With The Big Boys
After reading Dieter Bohn’s great article today about Google’s boisterous leak, it really got me thinking. To sum up his post, here are the main points:
- With Pixel 3a, Google has freed itself to go unapologetically high-end with the Pixel 4 since there’s a mid-range model for those that don’t want all the latest features.
- Google and everyone else knows the basic leaked smartphone script, so why not flip it and just show off the phone?
- While this helps Google drive the hype narrative, it also puts them on the hook to deliver something worthy of that hype.
- In doing so, Google is basically killing what little life they still had in the Pixel 3 even though it is just now on multiple carriers.
- With this move, Google is confirming that they are confident in themselves and this new phone.
OK, so we’ve moved into full-hype for the Pixel 4. How does that have anything to do with timing? Well, since Google is clearly marching forward with Pixel 4 in such a bold and daring way, there are still a few things to consider when we talk about getting a flagship phone to actually sell to consumers.
First is the iPhone effect. For the past few years, the iPhone is announced at least a month before the Pixel and it steals the show every time. After all, when you compete in this space, you compete with Samsung and Apple. Samsung launches in the Spring, and Apple in the early fall. Both are before Pixel and that hasn’t been kind to Google at all.
Second is the Qualcomm effect. Qualcomm releases its new chipset in the spring and because of that, when the Pixel comes out in the late fall, it is only 5 months before a better, faster, more powerful chip releases in the spring and guess who jumps on it: Samsung. Apple doesn’t have to worry with this since they make their own chipsets, but the rest of the world falls victim to the yearly Snapdragon update.
Stuck between these two yearly (predictable) events, Google has almost set up the Pixel to fail in this super-competitive market.
Time For A Change
So, how can Google escape this? Since the beginning of the #madebyGoogle era, Google has chosen to stick with the October timeframe for announcements. The first two years it was October 4th and we fully expected it to be the same last year as well. Instead, Google made a small move to the 9th and shook things up just a little bit. While we all thought 10/4 was some sort of significant date on Google’s calendar, we realized last year that this was not the case.
If there’s nothing truly tying Google to this timeframe, why wait around for October? This tweet is clearly aimed at getting out ahead of not only hype, but also the possible iPhone XI announcement as well. With a similar-looking camera bump, it makes sense to strike first for Google on this. But a bit of internet hype doesn’t fix the issues we just mentioned above. It doesn’t solve the issue of the iPhone launching a month before and it won’t fix the 5-month timeframe to processor obsolescence.
You know what could help solve both? An earlier launch date. If Google is willing to share clear pics of the Pixel 4 already, it means that they are pretty far along in the manufacturing process. Where big leaks didn’t begin until late summer last year, we’re seeing all this in late spring this time. What if Google saw an opportunity to not just flip the script on the hype-train, but flip the script on the release date as well?
Imagine a scenario where the press invites go out for a Google event around mid-summer for an event in late August or early September. Imagine Google getting the jump on Apple this time and also getting their phone out 6-7 months before the next Snapdragon chip shows up in the latest Galaxy S 11 device. A simple shift in timing could do all of this for Google and could make a huge impact in the visibility and sales of the Pixel 4.
Google’s clear confidence in the Pixel 4 and where they are in the development cycle of it make me think this could truly be a scenario that plays out this year. I don’t have any inside info, here, so it could come to pass that Google sticks with its normal October timeline. However, there’s little reason to stick to that timeline with the poor sales of Pixel 3 and the recent launch of Pixel 3a, and there are multiple reasons to move that release date up quite a bit. It seems clear to me that a slight change in date could yield big results for the phone I think everyone is hoping rights the Pixel ship this year.