Google has to change something after the Pixel 4 flop, but THAT Pixel 5 design ain't it
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Whether you're a keen observer of the mobile industry who likes to keep track of all the early rumors and leaks regarding the next big stars of the global smartphone market or just casually follow the top stories and news headlines about the world's most popular handsets, odds are you've already seen the Pixel 5 XL design that Google might have in the pipeline for a fall 2020 release.
That's because the search giant's in-house smartphone manufacturing operation tends to somehow generate similar interest as Apple and Samsung's best-selling product portfolios on websites like PhoneArena and social media without converting said interest into actual customer demand. One could argue that haters love to hate, and while it's definitely true that a lot of people seem to follow Google's mobile hardware work just to mock and poke fun at it, I personally think many others are simply expecting the company to knock their socks off.
In one form or another, Google has been selling own-brand phones for a decade, and yet the company is still not ranked among the world's top ten or America's top five vendors. Some might say the search giant is not really playing the volume game, but what good are nice and thick profit margins if you're only shipping a few million devices a year? A radical change of some sort is badly needed after four underwhelming Pixel generations, but thinking too far outside the box could be just as dangerous as playing things safe yet another time.
Is desperation finally kicking in?
I know what you're thinking. Before you even thought it, I saw it coming. You're wondering why in the world we're paying so much attention to a render of a prototype potentially being considered for the final Pixel 5 XL design, which will probably only be officially unveiled in October 2020. One of three early prototypes, to be exact, according to the guy who set the internet on fire with his purported leak a couple of weeks ago.
The answer is very simple, and whether or not Google decides to adopt that universally derided triple camera system commercially is beside the point. The very fact this ghastly design is in consideration (and for what it's worth, I believe Jon Prosser given his solid recent track record) suggests something that should keep hardcore Google fans up at night fearing what the Pixel 5 could become.
It suggests that the company is getting desperate in its pursuit of an original design helping the Pixel lineup stand out from the pack while not requiring much engineering wizardry. The time for wacky experiments has gone, as the market continues to get more and more crowded with incredibly powerful devices sold at very competitive prices. Even if Google insists on trying new things for the sake of trying, a protruding camera module strongly resembling a surprised face and yet another substantial "forehead" are certainly not the way to go.
Although I fully realize the "Pixel Ultra" envisioned by many hopeful Big G fans a couple of years back remains a utopian dream, that's the only direction that makes sense for the Pixel lineup right now and the company should focus entirely on inching closer to that vision instead of considering eccentric concepts that would match or perhaps multiply the negative attention generated by 2018's notched Pixel 3 XL.
The Pixel 5 can still be a hit (but it won't be)
While Google should definitely stay away from a possible repeat of the Pixel 3 XL embarrassment, the boring Pixel 4 design also needs to die. It sounds pretty much impossible to walk that fine line without falling flat on your face and completely messing up the delicate balance between originality and maturity, but the dreamer in me thinks Google can pull it off with relative ease.
The fact of the matter is beauty is not only highly subjective but also largely unimportant in today's smartphone landscape. Does anyone really think the iPhone XR is pretty? I would personally rate its design a solid "meh", even by 2018 standards, but the internals are great and the price just right, which clearly went a long way last year. Heck, even Samsung's crazy expensive Galaxy S20 Ultra looks... unremarkable at best at first glance, which probably won't stop the absolute powerhouse from earning more money than the tech giant's newly appointed mobile division president can count.
In other words, maybe Google doesn't need to completely overhaul the Pixel 4 after all. Not on the outside, at least. As many folks who were willing to give the 2019-released high-enders a chance despite their humdrum looks and unimpressive specs might be discovering, these stock Android phones are holding up well. Especially the XL, so perhaps Google simply needs to refine that tedious design, minimizing the bezels at the expense of the Project Soli radar system no one really cares about and keeping the camera setup as "clean" as possible.
Sure, that's not going to knock anyone's socks off, but with the right internals (more memory and storage and a bigger battery, please), the same amazing camera as always, and most importantly, a fair price straight off the bat, Google could finally stop being the laughing stock of the mobile hardware landscape. There's no need to get desperate, but all this complacency manifesting itself in absurd pricing structures and primitive storage configurations has to go away.
It's that simple, and yet if history is any indication, Google will surely try too much or too little and end up discounting the Pixel 5 and 5 XL shortly after their commercial debut. You just wait and see.