Software to define Google Pixel phones, not hardware
Top notch specs remain important, but it is the software and artificial intelligence that could take the user experience to the next level
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When Apple unveiled the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in September, they were slated by all and sundry for launching two new phones which looked and felt very similar to the predecessors, the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus. But, from the sort of indications we are getting, Google is getting ready to do the same with the upcoming Pixel line-up of smartphones, set to be unveiled on Tuesday—no drastic changes and no redesigning the wheel.
It is expected that the Nexus branding, popular thus far, will give way to the Pixel name. As things might eventually pan out, if we are to believe the purportedly leaked listings by online retailer, Carphone Warehouse, the Google Pixel phone doesn’t look entirely dissimilar to last year’s Nexus 5X (made by LG).
There is apparently a second phone as well, just like last year, and it’ll most likely be called the Pixel XL. That should, and will probably be, the logical successor to the Nexus 6P (made by Huawei). And over the years, Nexus smartphones were never the benchmark devices in the Android ecosystem, despite the very clear aspirations—manufacturers such as Samsung always remained a step ahead in terms of the hardware game. Now, Google wants to erase the past, and deliver on the promise.
The Google Pixel is expected to be powered by the very latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, have a 5-inch AMOLED screen with the Full HD resolution and Gorilla Glass 4, 32GB internal storage (a memory card slot is still anyone’s guess), a 12-megapixel camera and a 2,770 mAh battery with fast charging. The larger sibling, the Pixel XL will also likely run the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB RAM, have a bigger 5.5-inch AMOLED screen (this is slightly smaller than the Nexus 6P’s 5.7-inch display) with a QHD 2,560 x 1,440 resolution and Gorilla Glass 4, similar cameras as the Pixel, 32GB/64GB and 128GB storage options, and a big 3,450 mAh battery.
Pricing details remain incredibly sketchy, and we would not want to make any fallacious judgements based on price tags that may be completely wrong come the official unveil.
But, if you think that hardware and specs is the winning formula for the Google Pixel phones, that inference might now be completely on the mark this time around. And Google also realizes that. Software, and in particular the overall Android user experience, will make the critical difference for the new phones, in a densely populated Android smartphone ecosystem. And it needs to be a special package in the Pixel phones.
The biggest change could be the launcher itself. For the uninitiated, the launcher in an Android phone is the complete package of the home screens, the app icons and the app drawer, as well as the add-on features. The Pixel Launcher, as it is being referred to, suggests that Google’s own apps will have rounded icons—sitting atop a white background. Improved icon differentiation? Perhaps. Standardized design? Most likely.
The second change could be the Live icons. For example, the calendar icon could now show the current date—something that iOS has done for a long time—and this mean the user can get relevant information quickly, without actually having to open an app. Whether third-party apps will be able to take advantage of this still remains to be seen, but we’ll be very surprised if this is limited.
The Pixel Launcher could also take better advantage of the screen real estate. It is expected that the Google Search bar, so common the Google launcher thus far, will now actually become just an icon, which will roll out a search bar as an on-demand action, whenever tapped. This means, a bar doesn’t take up screen space all the time—that could be better utilized for app icons, widgets, or just ends up looking cleaner.
The recently launched Allo instant messenger app has one stand-out feature—the Google Assistant, with all the artificial intelligence and machine learning. And if this is baked into the operating system on Pixel phones, Assistant could very well be the killer feature for the Pixel and the Pixel XL. We have already seen Google Assistant’s prowess at being able to answer pretty much any question thrown its way and being available across the phone to find relevant info at any given point of time, instead of just within an app, will be the next logical evolution.
Google could also take hints from Apple’s 3D Touch feature (seen in the iPhone 6s and newer) and allow quick actions directly from the app icon itself. Whether Google’s Pixel devices will feature pressure-sensitive displays remains to be seen, but it could very well be software enabled feature.
Whenever the inevitable Android vs iOS debate takes off, the former is always put on the back-foot because of the fragmentation issues within the ecosystem—where a majority of the phones are still running older Android versions, leading to security concerns, among other things. This will not be the first time Google attempts to make an official Android phone.
Over the years, the Nexus phones (initially meant for software developers), have played that role to a certain extent. Last year, the Android Silver program was shelved, after Google didn’t get much traction from phone makers enthused about the idea of sharing resources for high-end “stock Android” phones.