Can Google’s New Smartphone Beat the IPhone?
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Google has long been an also-ran in the smartphone world. But as of this week, the Alphabet Inc. unit may have finally figured out how to compete with its iPhone-making rival: custom silicon.
On Tuesday, Google unveiled the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro, both featuring a new Google-designed main processor called the Tensor. Along with the customary annual enhancements including a redesign, improved high refresh rate displays, longer battery life and better cameras, the two models can now offer special capabilities unlocked by the additional hardware.
What can the latest Pixels do that rivals can’t? In Tuesday’s presentation, Google focused on its artificial intelligence prowess in photography and voice recognition. Futuristic features include the “Magic Eraser,” which allows users to remove a person or an object from a photo on the device. There’s also “Face Unblur,” which can sharpen a subject’s blurry face. Additionally, the phone offers better speech recognition capabilities — from more accurate voice typing to real-time translation in 48 languages.
But perhaps Google’s most aggressive move may be the price point for the Pixels. Despite the phone’s high-end trappings, the company is lowering the price of its standard model. The Pixel 6 and the larger screen Pixel 6 Pro will be available in stores on Oct. 28 and cost $599 and $899 — significantly less than the comparable iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max that go for $999 and $1,099, respectively.
All the prior Pixels had Qualcomm Inc.’s Snapdragon processors, making the San Diego-based chipmaker the biggest loser from the Pixel announcement event. But Qualcomm may not have had the scale now required to compete in the smartphone world: The company is projected to spend roughly $6 billion in research and development this fiscal year ending in September. Apple Inc. — though it’s working on more than just chips — will spend a comparatively huge $22 billion.
Google knows it must use the full weight of its financial firepower to compete with its multitrillion-dollar market rival. And like Apple, by making its own chips, Google can further integrate software and hardware to optimize for the best performance and attractive features.
Pixel still has a very long way to go if it hopes to compete with the iPhone and Apple’s sticky ecosystem of software and services. According to StatCounter, Pixel phones have just 2% of the North American market, compared with 53% for the iPhone and 28% for Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy devices.
Now, though, the potent combination of unique innovation and cheaper pricing may finally supercharge the business, upending five years of mediocre Pixel performance. Google is finally a contender for the smartphone crown.
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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Barron's, following an earlier career as an equity analyst.
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