Google is not a hardware company, where does that leave the Pixels?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Google is not a hardware company, where does that leave the Pixels?
TL;DR 
We calculated the average lifespan of Google's hardware projects to be 2 years and 9 months, compared to 4 years and 4 months for its abandoned apps and services software roster. These stats can make you go "hmm" about every Google gear - from the new Stadia game controller to the almighty Pixel phone. It takes great pictures, yo.

There could be nothing but admiration for the enthusiasm with which Google dives headfirst in moonshot projects that it has the wisdom to abruptly abandon once they don't pan out or start losing too much money. 

It's the founders' creed, the inventor mentality, the problem-and-solution approach that makes those guys tick, and we are all the better for it, as they have brought us many of the things we can't imagine our lives without now, like web search, Maps, and, soon, self-driving cars.

One needn't look further than the Killed by Google project to realize that the company built around software engineering is not just abandoning software projects that are comparatively benign to test and then dispose of. 

Recently, it dispersed a bunch of people from the laptop and tablet division into other projects, including its flashy new Stadia game streaming disruption. What gives?

Google as a hardware company


Out of nearly 150 undertakings Google started and ditched so far, just 12 are hardware-related, but the average shelf life of those projects is just 2 years and 9 months. This lifespan sounds problematic as it's much shorter than with software endeavors like Google+, Inbox by Gmail, or the 9-year-old URL Shortener that are giving up the ghost this year.

For comparison, the average existence of Google's abandoned apps or services is 4 years and 4 months. We are not even mulling here over hardware companies that Google acquires and then offloads like the robotics push into Boston Dynamics or the beloved Moto maker sold to China's Lenovo.

We mostly care about the Pixel phone project, and it looks like there will be a Pixel 4 model which will eventually cross Google's 3-years hardware death Rubicon this year, whew! The HTC engineering team seems safe for now. In short, however, Google tries and fails at hardware way more than in software, so no device line seems safe in its enterprising hands.


Even the most optimistic analysts, who are of the opinion that Google has finally mastered the hardware business, are only projecting that hardware will account for 5% of the gross profit two years from now.


It's not that the Google gizmos are not appealing, or they are all flops, on the contrary. The Chromebook Pixel was one of the best-looking machines of its kind, for instance, while the runaway success that is the Google Home smart speaker is the bright shining light in the hardware department. For every decent hardware project, however, there are plenty of other things that make you go "hmm" when you think about Google and hardware.

The Nexus phones


Sold at or near cost, Google's first foray into fusing the Android software with its own hardware was a runaway favorite with users that loved'em some cheap phones. The Nexus line, however, was always a joint-venture between Google and various phone makers. Google didn't have full or enough control over the hardware portion of that partnership, so we often ended with generic devices that had the company's logo on them and were plagued with production and availability problems.

Google Nexus S

Google Nexus S

Dimensions

4.88 x 2.48 x 0.43 inches

123.9 x 63 x 10.88 mm

Weight

4.55 oz (129 g)

Google Nexus 4

Google Nexus 4

Dimensions

5.27 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches

133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm

Weight

4.90 oz (139 g)

Google Nexus 5X

Google Nexus 5X

Dimensions

5.79 x 2.86 x 0.31 inches

147 x 72.6 x 7.9 mm

Weight

4.80 oz (136 g)

Google Nexus 6P

Google Nexus 6P

Dimensions

6.27 x 3.06 x 0.29 inches

159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3 mm

Weight

6.28 oz (178 g)

Google Nexus S

Google Nexus S

Dimensions

4.88 x 2.48 x 0.43 inches

123.9 x 63 x 10.88 mm

Weight

4.55 oz (129 g)

Google Nexus 4

Google Nexus 4

Dimensions

5.27 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches

133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm

Weight

4.90 oz (139 g)

Google Nexus 5X

Google Nexus 5X

Dimensions

5.79 x 2.86 x 0.31 inches

147 x 72.6 x 7.9 mm

Weight

4.80 oz (136 g)

Google Nexus 6P

Google Nexus 6P

Dimensions

6.27 x 3.06 x 0.29 inches

159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3 mm

Weight

6.28 oz (178 g)

To see the phones in real size or compare them with other models, visit our Visual Phone Size Comparison page



The Motorola deal


Some say Google bought Motorola because it liked where it is heading with the Moto X, others that it made out like a bandit with the patents. The fact of the matter is that it resold it at an actual loss, while the patents are just serving as a potential shield, and are still to be employed in a court battle. Google, the perennial optimist, spun the purchase as a great success:

 

Chromebooks and Pixel Slates


The now-defunct Chromebook Pixel could have been a warning sign for Google that it just can't pierce the high-end of the market after the fact. The unabashed success of cheapo Chromebooks in American classrooms against Apple's expensive iPads means what it says on the tin - affordable gadgets are welcome, but nobody is willing to pay top dollar for Google's experiments like Chrome OS.

The $999 Pixelbook is a case in point - it weirded out reviewers, and now reports claim that Google has "reassigned" dozens of employees from its Made By Google Chrome OS department to greener company pastures. While the Pixelbook 2 seems too deep into the production line not to be introduced along with the Pixel 4 this fall, judging from all the leaks, who is willing to bet if there will be another high-end Made By Google Chrome OS device after it?



The Pixel phones


Google revamped the Nexus line concept as a high-end Pixel portfolio of phones that match the branding of its slates and laptops and cost about as much as Samsung, Apple or Huawei flagships. Oh, we almost forgot the Pixel Buds wired wireless earphones that had to be updated shortly after their launch last year, so that one could actually turn them off.

We won't even be delving into the numerous screen, audio, design, calling and various other mishaps that happen with Pixels after launch. The puny availability outside of a few major markets is also explicable given that Google's not really a hardware company with a vast production and distribution network. The warranty and after-sales support, however, could be a major turnoff for prospective buyers. 


For screen and other replacements of the Pixel 3 and 3 XL outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, Google works with the handymen from uBreakiFix on a walk-in basis, and that was your only option if you drop your new Google phone on a hard surface sans a case. The funny part is that the link that sent you from Google's support site to uBreakiFix only listed phones up to Pixel 2 until this month. 

Not being able to swap a broken Pixel 3 screen a month after launch even if you paid for it is not a good look for early adopters. It was only this month that Google started accepting mail-in Pixel 3 fixes via its own Repair Center website. That's five months after launch where you couldn't change a cracked display if you didn't have a third-party repair chain store handy.



Google, we love you, but you have a reverse Apple problem


Hardware is not like software - the entry barriers are higher, demand is fickle, the overhead costs are huge, logistics is problematic, and the margins pale in comparison (save for the iPhone, which is fast becoming a mere vessel for Apple's margin-heavy software and services, too.) 

In a nutshell, you have to be really skilled to get all the pesky production, distribution, warranty, and after-sales services right, even if you have a compelling product. Above all, you need to have been doing hardware for a long time with your heart in it. While Google's motto is not exactly "move fast and break things" like Facebook's, it certainly looks like it doesn't have the patience and wherewithal to be a successful maker of consumer electronics in the long-term just yet.

The issue seems to be that hardware is concocted as an afterthought - just another access point to Google's bread-and-butter search and ad business that still accounts for the lion's share of the revenue and profits. It's the Apple problem in reverse - hardware is commoditizing, and it just announced a deep push into services

Where does that leave the Pixel phones' line? Take a pick in the poll below, and tell us what you think about Google's brave adventures in hardware.

How long will the Pixel phones last as a Google project?

The Pixel phones will forever be part of Google's strategy
37.68%
More than the average 3-year lifespan of Google's hardware projects
43.6%
About the average lifespan of Google's hardware projects
18.72%

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23 Comments

1. tyger11

Posts: 291; Member since: Oct 29, 2012

That Nexus 5 photo is not of a Nexus 5. :)

8. lyndon420

Posts: 6789; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

And they didn't mention my beloved Nexus 6 either.

14. BL4NKF4CE

Posts: 135; Member since: Aug 06, 2017

I see the Nexus S and 5X mentioned, not the 5.

2. Cat97

Posts: 1892; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

In the dust, like they have always been. Along with other companies ruined by Google, like HTC and even Motorola.

18. vincelongman

Posts: 5692; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Motorola had already ruined themselves by failing to keep up with Apple/Samsung How has Google ruined HTC? If anything their cash injections has helped keep HTC afloat

3. Ray.S

Posts: 457; Member since: Jul 19, 2011

That Google / BD engineer kicking the robot is example of poor taste. Remember The Matrix and Overwatch, guys! We don't want to end up like that. Respect your robots! :) (Yes, even the vacuum cleaner.)

23. diehardnokian

Posts: 147; Member since: Apr 27, 2014

uhm.. I think the robot being kicked is to show it's ability to recover from such an impact. Please don't make up stories

4. Guseinguliev

Posts: 115; Member since: Mar 04, 2019

sorry we officially are not selling smartphones from google. There is no other normal smartphone on the qualcomm except pixels.

5. surethom

Posts: 1691; Member since: Mar 04, 2009

You missed out Wear OS, Im guessing there is only about 5 programmers working on this at any one time.

6. Valdomero

Posts: 677; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

I love Google and its software products, I even bought 2 Nexus phones from overseas to have Google's phones (they were not available in my country). But when they killed the Nexus line I was so disappointed in them, and when my Nexus 5X died on me, I decided to go Apple to give them a try.

7. TBomb

Posts: 1484; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

The Pixel lineup is just Google's iPhone. It gets people using Google Services by being perfected to work on the device (albeit bugs occur sometimes). Give someone a Pixel with all Google services on it vs Samsung or LG's equivalent and they will start using Google's services which is where Google makes their money. Google also needs to make the hardware to keep competition alive in the Android ecosystem. By offering devices that receive solid software updates, Google is forcing Samsung and Huawei and the others who want to be major players to keep up. If you want to be the best, you have to be better than your competition. Google entering the ring makes it harder to be the best for everyone else. I don't see the Pixel lineup going away anytime soon.

19. vincelongman

Posts: 5692; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

$4B revenue and $2B gross profit from growing Pixel sales is very respectable e.g. Sony mobile's $6.5B revenue, LG mobile's $7B revenue If RBC's 2021 prediction of $6.9B revenue and $3.2B gross profit for Google's Pixel division comes true, the Pixels would eclipse Sony and LG's mobile revenue, maybe sooner if their revenue keep falling

9. Sammy_DEVIL737

Posts: 1529; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

I don't feel like Pixel is going anywhere considering their phones have the best overall camera on a smartphone they have some nice amount of motivation towards their Pixel lineup. But they still need to work on their QC issues.

10. Foxgabanna

Posts: 597; Member since: Sep 11, 2016

Robots will learn their own language and kill us all.

11. lallolu

Posts: 732; Member since: Sep 18, 2012

Google is making money from pixel phone. Therefore, it is here to stay.

12. Venom

Posts: 3548; Member since: Dec 14, 2017

I don't have a problem with the Pixel phones or whatever Google comes up with next. They are simple and clean with stock Android. If Google were to poach HMD and make a Pixel Nokia phone, that would be epic.

13. CEDEOTB

Posts: 416; Member since: Nov 21, 2016

When the Pixel 4 gets released, I guarantee you it's going to be behind again in the hardware department. It's going to lack UFS 3.0, It'll have 6gb of Ram, no periscope zoom lens, a small battery and no headphone jack.

20. Georgio

Posts: 246; Member since: Nov 21, 2016

They will have ufs and 6gb of ram which is enough for stock android. They will also have the best camera and a good battery. Google will be ahead of everybody.

15. MobileNico

Posts: 95; Member since: Aug 26, 2012

Samsung definitely got their money's worth with this article. It's well-written and makes some good points as far as criticisms of Google's hardware decisions, but leaves any semblance of positivity for the end while simultaneously (and subtly) attacking Apple as well for their similar (but opposite) approach, when most of the damage is already done in the mind of the reader. And then boom, S10 video. Here's the thing: Samsung is the true opposite of Google and should've been the name mentioned as far as the brand that has a "reverse problem". Samsung's hardware is awesome, but their software and services are not. And it's not even close.

16. D34ever

Posts: 228; Member since: Jul 14, 2018

Where do the Pixels belong? Easy....in the trash can!!

17. CreeDiddy

Posts: 2187; Member since: Nov 04, 2011

If it weren’t for Google OS being distributed for free Samsung and many other companies wouldn’t have the success it’s having on making its own OS and App Store. I applaud Google for making a bold move to become a player in the mobile space. However it made a mistake by being main creator of why Google exists. On the flip side, Google is thankful for Samsung and other manufacturers creating the success and paving the way for Android growth. This scenario is similar to a professional athlete and a owner. They both need each other, but the owner controls all of the money. The marketing machine becomes the athlete, however the athlete is being paid by the owner, but the fans and sponsors support the owners. Interesting....

21. hado86

Posts: 177; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

A google play edition galaxy s10 5G or note 10 would be awesome.

22. cheetah2k

Posts: 2256; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

This article fails to mention the $1.1B deal to buy a chunk of HTC's smartphone division. Google has announced the completion of its $1.1 billion deal to buy a large slice of HTC's mobile hardware business. So I'm unsure as to why there is even a concern about Googles investment in their pixel handset range .

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