Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Thought Leadership, Speed Desk and How-To. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds.
Jessica led CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
ExpertiseContent strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
What's especially shocking about Pixel's struggle is Google's inability so far to turn its massive influence in search and software services, from Gmail and Google Maps to Google Photos, to Google Assistant on every device and Google Drive, into a growing Pixel following. The success of Google Home, the brand's smart speakers, against Amazon's more established Echo, demonstrates that Google can successfully make hardware work. So what went wrong with Pixel?
Google and Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.
Go big or go home
Google's Pixel problem so far is one of boldness. Or rather its flipside, timidity. Relying on Verizon as its carrier partner and word of mouth among Android enthusiasts, has been a tepid approach that can't stand up to the advertising weaponry so deftly wielded by Apple and Samsung.
But the $400 Pixel 3A, announced in May at Google's annual I/O conference, turns the tide. The cheap Pixel we always needed sells in-store with Verizon,
and T-Mobile, and you can use it with
and Google Fi when you buy the phone through Google's website. This added carrier exposure already boosts awareness of the Pixel as a brand worth considering.
But even more important is Google's advertising strategy that pits the Pixel 3A against last year's iPhone X in a clean, assertive style reminiscent of Apple's own billboard ads.
It will take more than clever marketing and broader carrier support to sell the Pixel 4 in numbers that matter. Google will also need to shore up product gaps if the future phone is to effectively compete on the high end.
With Samsung's Galaxy
and Apple's iPhone XS selling for an eye-watering $1,000 each, the Pixel 4 will need to bring not just the same screen, camera and battery features as those pricier phones, but also extras like wireless charging and an arresting design.
On the looks front, Google has played it safe, bordering on boring, with a cookie-cutter design that barely strays from the previous year and colors so bland the company can't commit to a hue. The Pixel 3 isn't called pink, it's Not Pink. The 3A is Purplish.
Pixel phones typically sell for less than the iPhone and Galaxy S, but Google's price advantage isn't a sure thing either. Although the
cost $800 when it launched last year, less than 2018's iPhone XS and
, are still more expensive than the
and 6T of the same year, which started at $530 and $550, respectively.
The OnePlus 7 Pro, starting at $650, its highest price OnePlus phone yet, might it could still look like a good deal to buyers seeking the best-value Android phone. If the Pixel 4 comes out at over $800, T-Mobile buyers (where the OnePlus 7 Pro sells, but an unlocked model will work for AT&T, too) could still gravitate to it over the Pixel 4. $200 extra dollars in the pocket is $200 in the pocket, and it's likely that the Pixel's price will rise, especially with a fancier rear camera in play.
Ever since the Nexus days when Google first experimented with phones of its "own" (made by other manufacturers), Google-branded handsets have taken a curious backseat to the tech giant's other hardware and software products. Pixel phones have all the ingredients to sell millions, and yet, so far, they haven't. Around 85% of the world's phones run Android. Google owns search, maps and voice assistant, areas where the iPhone struggles. It is a known and trusted brand.
When you factor in its enormous software foundation, no name in tech holds more smartphone sway or brand recognition than Google. Perhaps with the right combination of features and advertising, the Pixel 4 will come closer to being a household name, too.
Published June 17, 2019. Update, June 18 at 10:03 a.m. PT: Edited for clarity.