The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL
are two rather important devices. For the US smartphone market, they represent the first attempt at a decent mid-range device in quite some time. For Google’s hardware business, on the other hand, they mark the beginning of a new era. But rather curiously, the internet giant’s design team didn’t have much input when it came to development.
Google's HTC team led development for the first time
Since the launch of the original Pixel and Pixel XL
back in 2016, Google has had a pretty close relationship with HTC. After designing and developing the first-gen flagships on its own, the internet giant put the latter in charge of manufacturing both devices. A similar agreement happened in 2017 when HTC was granted a contract to produce the regular Pixel 2.
Throughout this process, Google noticed the value that HTC’s smartphone know-how brought to the table. Eventually, this led to a deal worth $1.1 billion
in which the Silicon Valley-based giant would acquire HTC’s phone engineering assets and intellectual property. And it is here that the Pixel 3a’s story begins.
The original Pixels were manufactured by HTC
Shortly after the transaction was completed in early 2018 and the businesses had been fully integrated, Google assigned development of the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL
to its newly-acquired HTC team. Google’s original design team did have some input, as is to be expected, but “the lion’s share of the work” took place in Taiwan
. According to Vice President of Product Management Brian Rakowski, the Pixel 3a project was the first one “led from a hardware and software perspective by the HTC team.”
Google may have multiple teams designing Pixel phones
Although Google hasn’t confirmed its development plans for the Pixel 4 flagships
later this year, there’s a good chance development is once again being led by the HTC team in partnership with Google’s original engineers and designers. The same goes for next year’s Pixel 4a
series, which was teased just yesterday by Google when it confirmed plans for other affordable Pixel devices
and committed to the mid-range lineup for the foreseeable future.
Regarding future generations, this is where things get a little confusing. Following the controversy that surrounded the Pixel 3 XL
’s design last year, a recent rumor suggested the internet giant had implemented a three-team strategy
In order to avoid ugly designs on future Pixels, be it flagship or affordable models, Google has apparently set up three separate design teams. Each of these works independently, has no communication with others, and is in charge of designing the next models. Before greenlighting production of its smartphones, Google executives will apparently look at all designs and choose the one it deems best. Once this happens, engineers will work together to prepare both the software and hardware.
The future of Google's Pixel line
Recently, Google confirmed that it had experienced a drop in sales due to increased competition in the flagship segment. The availability of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL through T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular should help boost sales throughout the rest of the year, but long-term growth in the premium segment is expected to remain minimal due to high prices and fewer upgrades.
The mid-range segment, on the other hand, could significantly expand the presence of Google's smartphone business, especially in the US where cheaper smartphones don't tend to offer the best hardware or experiences. Compared to many rivals that are available globally, the Pixel 3a series does lag behind in terms of specs. However, it offers an outstanding camera, useful features, and an impressive software experience, all of which are important to most US consumers.
On a side note, Google recently confirmed that it's in the process of prototyping foldable devices
and has been for a long time. However, at the moment, the company doesn't believe there's a good enough use case to justify releasing one.