Google ad hints of new smartphones to come on Oct. 4

Nexus smartphones, with new 'Pixel' name, seen as going mass market

Google released an intriguing new video on prime time TV Monday that hints of an Oct. 4 announcement of two new smartphones -- the Pixel X and Pixel XL.

The 30-second spot, also posted on Google-owned YouTube, shows a search bar rectangle that morphs into the shape of a smartphone accompanied by the 1974 hit single, “Come and Get Your Love” by the rock band Redbone.

A separate website, madeby.google.com with much the same content shows the smartphone shape with color photos and a place to sign up for email alerts for more information. Fans of the Google Nexus phones will notice the URL refers to “made by Google” as well. Billboards in New York City are also showing the promotion.

The promotion was also backed up by invitations to some media outlets for a Google event in San Francisco on Oct. 4.

Reports suggest that Google will announce two new smartphones that day, the Pixel X with a 5-in. screen, and the larger 5.5-in. Pixel XL. They would presumably run a custom version of the latest Android OS, 7.0 dubbed Nougat. The phones would be manufactured by HTC.

Other reports indicate Google is dropping the Nexus name for Pixel, and plans to announce other products on Oct. 4, such as its Daydream virtual reality device and Google Home, an answer to the Amazon Echo.

The significance of the video and the reports of new smartphones should not be lost on average smartphone users.

Android phones dominate the global smartphone market, with an 85% share that is predicted to continue through 2020, according to research firm IDC. However, Google and even many Android phone makers, are clearly interested in keeping Android users updated with the latest operating system, along with the latest processors, cameras, sleek designs and other updates.

The Nexus line, going back to the Nexus One in 2009, has been one way that Google could show the best designs and uses for pure Android, even as it has served a small group of customers -- mainly tech-savvy users.

“Google’s goal with Nexus, or now Pixel phones, is the same as always: an alternative to Samsung smartphones in the high end which can really show off Android and Google’s ecosystem,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies.

So far, “Nexus devices have not helped because of the limited sales channel,” meaning they are mainly sold unlocked on the web. Google needs wider distribution, but can’t really afford to work with carriers and mass retailers because doing so would increase Google’s costs and upset other Android phone manufacturers, Milanesi said.

Milanesi said another report that’s circulating is that Google will bring its pure Android approach through Nexus in-house completely and close it off to other partner/manufacturers. “Alienating partners no longer seems to be a concern,” she added.

Under that scenario, Google could make its Google Mobile Services (GMS) — including Google Search, Gmail, Chrome and Google Maps — “proprietary,” in order to simplify the process of getting devices updated to the latest version of Android. “That would be so pure innovation actually makes it into consumers’ hands,” she said.

GMS is available only through a license with Google, according to the Android website, although installing it on devices requires no license fee.

More details may be forthcoming on Oct. 4 about a GMS that is more proprietary, expensive or restrictive for licensees. Google CEO Sundar Pichai told The Verge on June 1 that his company would “be more opinionated about the design of the phones,” particularly where Google sees a need to “push the devices forward.”

Pichai said then that Google would not create its own phones from scratch, and said Google’s plan was “still to work with OEMs to make phones.”

While Android already dominates the smartphone market, Google has to make Android evolve to keep up with the market and create interest when a new OS version is released, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates.

“Google needs to show continued improvements, if not outright innovation, if it wants to maintain its market share,” Gold said. “Google often creates flagship devices that are meant to stimulate the market and get vendors’ creative juices flowing. It will continue to do so.”

Gold said he hopes that Google will announce an evolution of its core search capabilities with artificial intelligence with new interfaces for users.

The latest Google video promotion with TV and billboard ads shows a marketing willingness to take the Nexus concept for innovation to the mass market and beyond the niche of technophiles that have purchased the devices online.

On the other hand, Google faces a balancing act as it enlarges its market reach, said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

“Google always needs to be cautious that Android doesn’t get cheapened as a phone platform, especially as Apple gobbles up so much of the premium tier,” Moorhead said. “They should charge as high a price as they can without getting piggish on profits.”

The worst that could happen is if Android smartphones become a “commodity” with little pizazz and innovation.

“Commoditization doesn’t just happen; industries allow themselves to be commoditized,” Moorhead said. “Case in point -- the PC market. The PC market reduced investing then started to get commoditized and had to spend even more to decrease the slide.”

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