In the process, Google has clearly attempted to drum up consumer excitement for the device ahead of its official launch alongside other new hardware products at an event in New York City on Tuesday. But the company has also arguably created a different challenge for itself: What else can Google say to hype up its flagship phone at the event that wasn’t known before?
Here’s what information is out there already: The Pixel is expected to finally trade in its one rear camera for two — a move in line with most smartphones on the market but still one short of the iPhone 11 Pro’s three rear-camera offering. The cameras will be tucked into a square-like fixture on the top left of the device, closely resembling Apple’s new camera structure.
The Pixel 4, which is expected to come in standard and XL sizes, features a Soli radar chip to enable more secure facial recognition and air gestures, as demoed in a video promo on YouTube. Photos have circulated of the Pixel 4 in various colors, including a new orange that was featured in a giant Times Square billboard promoting the launch event.
But at a time when companies including Samsung and Microsoft are launching foldable mobile devices, Google appears to be staying the course. The new features will likely “keep Google in the conversation but not necessarily bring it ahead,” according to Ramon Llamas, research director at market research firm IDC.
“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 has long trailed Samsung, Apple 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.
By Samantha Murphy Kelly, CNN Business