“The biggest thing to look for is the camera; it’s the Pixel’s calling card,” Llamas said. “Given the improvements by Samsung and Apple in this area, Google has to deliver an experience that is either on par or even better than what those companies have.”
Google (GOOG) has long trailed Samsung (SSNLF), Apple (AAPL) and some Chinese companies in smartphone market share, with the Pixel occupying less than 1% of the pie globally, according to IDC’s worldwide quarterly mobile phone tracker. Google doesn’t even break out phone sales when it reports quarterly earnings results, instead lumping it into a product category it calls “other revenue.”
The Pixel has
remained a largely niche product due to relatively high pricing and limited distribution — it’s only available in the US, exclusively on Verizon. Customers can buy an unlocked version from Google or another retail store, but they’ll end up paying full price. It could launch soon on more carriers, possibly on Sprint
, but a global expansion is unlikely as of now.
Google also faces the same challenges as its competitors: a saturated smartphone market and consumers who are waiting longer to upgrade their perfectly fine older devices.
Google could stand to drop the starting price of its flagship model. The Pixel 3 cost $799; that’s compared to the new iPhone 11, which starts at $699. But the rumor mill indicates the Pixel 4 could see an uptick in cost this year.
Despite the limitations, the Pixel has amassed a tiny but cult-like following. “I’d argue that these are Google fanboys and fangirls that have been driving sales; people who understand and want what the Pixel is: A Google phone as Google intended it,” Llamas said.
The Pixel, which will run on Google’s latest Android operating system, is free of bloatware from other vendors or carriers, resulting in more accessible memory and fewer non-Google apps running in the background.
5G networks in the US are still in their infancy, and spotty at best, but a rumored 5G version of the Pixel 4 could position Google as an early adopter
. “It would definitely help its efforts to [be adopted] by more carriers around the world,” said Ben Stanton, senior analyst at Canalys. “But it is still early days for 5G, so it is not a big deal if Google decided to wait another year.”
Beyond the Pixel, Google is expected to show off a 13.3-inch touchscreen laptop called the Pixelbook Go, a Google Watch and an update to its Nest Mini speaker system. Pixel Buds, its answer to Apple’s AirPods, will also likely get a refresh, with longer-lasting battery life and a mute feature that automatically turns on when someone else is talking.
The event, which will be livestreamed, will kick off at 10:00 a.m. ET/7:00 a.m. PT. CNN Business will be on the ground at the event.