Google knows it: the upcoming Pixel 6 launch is going to be big. Not only has Google chief executive Sundar Pichai teased this moment a year ago, most recently Google has upped their estimates for Pixel sales way higher than on any other Google Pixel phone before.
2021 was/is a bad year for Qualcomm
Qualcomm has been dominating the smartphone market for years now. Android phones from the most expensive and premium flagship devices down to budget models almost exclusively rely on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips. It has been a comfortable position for the chip maker and while Snapdragon chips are not quite as fast as Apple’s own Bionic series, they are not too far behind and that has just been good enough.
So how do you even challenge a dominant player like Snapdragon? Well, it is not an easy task. Google has been developing its own mobile processor, the Google “Tensor”, but if you read reports carefully you would see insiders warning that this chip won’t be quite as fast as the best Snapdragons around. Qualcomm has too much of a headstart.
Which brings us to Google’s Pixel 6 moment and the Tensor chip. Yes, it might not be as fast in theory, but the bar has been set lower than in previous years: it just needs to NOT overheat and perform well. And if Google gets those two things right, it might just have the winner it needs to carve a niche it couldn’t carve in the smartphone space before.
Pixel 6 focuses on polish and refinement amidst Samsung’s foldable phone uncertainty
Apart from troubles with the Snapdragon 888 chip, Google might benefit from another unique occurrence: the lack of strong Android competition.
Samsung, the dominant name in the industry, has abandoned its popular Galaxy Note series and is left with no traditional flagship phone for the second half of the year, instead focusing on expensive and unproven foldable phones. This is a big gamble for Samsung: it has bet the house on people loving the new foldable phone form factor, but we are yet to see about that. Initial reviews have been mostly positive, but Samsung cannot get around the physical limitations of foldable designs like a smaller battery size, a display crease and the need to use your both hands to even unlock the phone. As with everything new and experimental, even if hugely successful, foldable phone update will take time, and it just seems like Samsung is leaving money off the table in the short term.
And that is a perfect opportunity for Google and its Pixel 6 which is the opposite of experimental: it’s supposed to be all about polish and traditional smartphone design. If you are not ready to risk it with a radical new phone form factor (which we’d be is most people), the Pixel 6 will be among few good options in the second half of the year.
Competitors are out
Not only have high-end Android phones in 2021 had a bad year due and Samsung given ground in the flagship battle, the biggest competitors are out.
LG has exited the phone market in the beginning of 2021 and is no longer a factor. No one has yet taken its place in the United States, and even in Europe, rising phone maker Xiaomi is taking over with its budget models rather than higher end phones.
The smartphone market landscape has never been so vacant in the past few years. And such vast and vacant spaces are easily swept by the perfect storm that is forming in Pixel land.
Google’s biggest obstacle is… Google itself!
With all that said, my biggest worry is whether Google will be able to overcome the biggest obstacle it has to face: itself!
The company has been compromising its own launches. Its best phones are often hard to get as it doesn’t answer the consumer demand, it has failed to forge strong partnerships with carriers, and its international presence is far weaker than Samsung’s and Apple’s. It also has a chip shortage situation on hand that it has to deal with.
But if Google takes hardware serious for once and it knows it has that perfect storm moment right now, it should do its best to take advantage of the opportunity.