What’s the point of Google brand smartphones?

Google wants to hedge its bets by having control over every feature and function in a selection of Android phones


Google’s Pixel smartphone range and other products are portals for the company’s advertising business. Photo: AP
Google’s Pixel smartphone range and other products are portals for the company’s advertising business. Photo: AP

Google first introduced smartphones of its own design nearly seven years ago, and hardly anyone has bought one. On Tuesday, it unveiled a revamped line-up, branded with Google’s Pixel name.

The company’s Android software already runs the vast majority of smartphones sold in the world, but Google wants to hedge its bets by having control over every feature and function in a selection of Android phones. Google’s aims can only pan out if it sells a large number of Pixel phones, which it won’t. So why do it?

Here are three reasons:

1) Ensure use of Google apps: Android powers about 88% of smartphones sold globally, but it is losing control of the sprawl of manufacturers. In China and India, local firms sell smartphones with the Android operating system but with local versions of app stores in place of Google Play. If the company’s Internet options aren’t front and centre on phones, people may use Google less and spend more time on Facebook and WhatsApp. That in turn crimps Google’s opportunities to turn consumer attention into ad sales.

2) Showcase the best of Android: Too many Android smartphones are clogged with clunky software made by the smartphone maker. Google’s own devices will be tidier and easier to use.

3) Sell people on the merits of Google’s wireless phone service: Google’s 18-month-old, low-cost Project Fi wireless phone technology is among the best new ideas in cellphone service. Project Fi is only available on Google’s own line of smartphones. Making smartphones isn’t a high-risk gamble for Google. The company’s $70 billion annual advertising revenue provides a big cushion to absorb any failures. But Google’s business empire makes it simply too conflicted to make good on the promise of its smartphones.

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