Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (ADR) isn’t exactly a ‘formidable’ rival to Apple’s iPhone, writes Richard Nieva on CNET. As per him, that title better suits the new Pixel phone from Google. One would wonder why the Pixel phone isn’t called the Google Phone.
Google’s answer to Apple’s iPhone has always been the stuff of tech industry lore. Now it’s finally here. But it’s got an unfamiliar moniker. Well, it is not quite called as the Google Phone. It’s officially called “Pixel, Phone by Google,” and the search giant unveiled it Tuesday during a much-hyped event in San Francisco.
Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (ADR) is no Longer the Sole Major Rival to Apple in the Smartphone Top Brass
The Pixel, available with either a 5-inch or 5.5-inch display, is a grown up Google phone, meant to compete with the top brass of the smartphone world, including Samsung and Apple. It’s a sharp strategic shift for Google, which has until now been content with selling phones through its Nexus program. For that, Google farmed out some of the hardware design to other manufacturers — like LG, Asus and Huawei — who put their brands on the phone alongside Google.
For tech watchers, the Pixel ends years of speculation about when Google would actually build a premium phone. The rumors started the moment Google bought a tiny mobile software startup called Android in 2005, a move that eventually pit it against Apple’s iOS software for the iPhone. It prompted Apple’s Steve Jobs to declare he was willing to spend every bit of his firm’s cash on fighting a “thermonuclear” war to destroy Android. The Pixel phone has Google’s signature G on the back, as per an image taken by James Martin on CNET.
So when Apple announced its own foray into the smartphone market in 2007 with the iPhone, we knew something was missing, an archrival. Coke has Pepsi, the Lakers have the Celtics, Tupac had Biggie. The iPhone needed a worthy competitor, someone even more formidable than Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (ADR) , the world’s biggest maker of phones.
That’s why a Google phone has been a long time coming. “When we finally decided to do it, everyone was like, ‘What took you so long?'” Brian Rakowski, a Google vice president of product management, said in an interview Tuesday. But dreams of this hypothetical clash of the tech titans typically envisioned the iPhone (a name that Apple bought from Cisco, by the way) fighting against the Google Phone. Or maybe the Gphone, as Android co-founder Andy Rubin called it in 2007. Something you could picture in lights on a marquee or in headlines on review face-offs.
Instead, we got iPhone versus…Pixel. It’s not exactly epic, like Superman versus Batman (the superheros, not the movie). Google insists Pixel is the right name for its new phone. “For us, it’s always represented the best of hardware and software designed and built by Google,” Rick Osterloh, Google’s hardware chief, said on stage Tuesday. That’s because Pixel isn’t a new name. There are already Pixel Chromebook laptops and tablets that Google designed in-house. Rick introduced the new phone. This too was captured by James.
Still, it’s pretty much an unknown brand. And that may be the point, said Dean Crutchfield, a New York-based brand consultant. For most people, Google means search. The Google name doesn’t have the “panache” to carry a high-end phone. “The reason the phone isn’t called Google is the brand doesn’t stretch that far,” he said. “If you stretch a brand too far, it snaps.” Plus, Google thinks people will come to know it as “the Google phone” anyway, despite its proper name, a company spokeswoman said. She points out that it says “Phone by Google” on the box and the phone itself has a big G on the back. “Phone by Google” is also printed in teeny tiny, nearly illegible letters on the bottom of the back of the phone. “People know who built this phone,” Rakowski continued. “It’s quite clear. We’re not being shy about it.”
Was it the coveted title of ‘most-loved’ brand? Maybe you’re thinking it’s unimportant to dissect a name, that it’s just semantics. Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But remember, Romeo and Juliet died because of their names. Google knows better than anyone that branding and marketing matter. Just look at the ill-fated Google Glass, which failed because, among other things, the firm couldn’t get the story right as to why you’d spend $1,500 on awkward eyewear. If Google wants to go up against a heavyweight like the iPhone with this new phone — and by all accounts, it does, given the Pixel’s starting price of $650 and Google’s exclusive deal with Verizon as the wireless provider — then the firm needs to nail everything, including the marketing. And the name.
There are probably several reasons why the firm wanted to call it something besides the Google Phone. Maybe Google didn’t want to scare its hardware partners, which are still deeply important when it comes to Android, by jumping into the deep end with a full-on, branded phone. Or, if the phone is a flop, it would be tough to give it a second try with another Google phone if the firm has already played that name card. Google made its own premium phone to showcase its software and services.
Still, the Google name is a world-class asset. It’s the most valuable brand in the world, according to the BrandZ Top 100 list, a study by the branding and advertising agency Kantar Millward Brown. Who’s No. 2? Apple. And when it comes to the world’s most-loved brands, Google is No. 4, according to the YouGov BrandIndex. Apple is close behind at No. 6. Interestingly enough, the study also lists the iPhone as its own brand. It’s No. 8. Maybe Google hopes Pixel will join the list. The ranking suggests people tend to think good things when they hear Google. What do people think when they hear Pixel? Maybe that Adam Sandler movie that got a 16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 27 on Metacritic.
But if Google didn’t choose Pixel because Pixel could help its brand power, it could be the other way around, said Jan Dawson, CEO of Jackdaw Research. “If Google does a phone named Pixel, and it’s successful, then it makes Pixel successful,” he said. Or maybe there’s something more subliminal at work here. A pixel, literally, is a kind of unit of measurement for images on a screen. On phones, pixels are the building blocks of software as manifested on a display. And software has always been at the heart of Google.
So even though you’re holding a shiny rectangle in your hand with Google’s signature G on the back, Google wants to remind you that it’s in the business of software. Pixels, not atoms. And in fact, that’s how Google executives, standing under a digital banner that declared “Made by Google,” explained it on Tuesday when they discussed why it’s time for Google to make its own hardware: Software and data are bigger parts of people’s lives than ever. Said Osterloh: “The rise of volume and complexity of all the information makes it so that this is the right time to be focused on hardware and software.”
What does this Mean for Samsung?
Quite a lot of bad news. At the Q2 FY2016 earnings release, the firm was projecting increased uptake of smartphones and tablets in the remainder of the year. In fact, during the conference call, Kyeongtae Lee from the firm’s IT & Mobile Communications Business was optimistic about what lies ahead. He said: “As for the Mobile Communications Business, we will maintain our positive sales momentum of premium smartphones by releasing a new large-screen flagship smartphone and sustaining the current sales trend of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.”
It is now quite clear that Lee was referring to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (ADR) ‘s Galaxy Note 7. About two months since the release of the handset, the recall program of the device still continues in the wake of safety issues. Unfortunately, now there is another issue to take head-on, in the form of the Pixel.