Countless Android challengers have assaulted the iPhone’s iron grip on the public, but the Apple (AAPL) device steadfastly remains the most popular phone with over 100 million in active use. So far, the closest competition has come from Samsung, whose Galaxy phones consistently earn high marks in tests.
With most Android phones, hardware manufacturers use their own operating systems that merge proprietary features with a standard version of the Android operating system. However, since Google doesn’t produce those features itself, the add-ons frequently earn the moniker “bloatware.” What’s worse, these add-ons aren’t even available until long after pure Android’s release.
As Google took great pains to communicate, the Pixel phone is “#MadeByGoogle”—and not another company. (When tech companies say “made,” they mean “designed” and not literally manufactured.) Not only does this mean that Google itself has control over the hardware design, but it also has complete control over the software. Pixel phones will run only the purest Android and will update straight from the mothership in Mountain View, just like the co-branded Nexus phones that came before it.
This total control over the digital ecosystem and device design finally gives Google the table stakes required to compete with Apple, a company that arguably succeeded due to valuing design as much as tech.
If any company is going to unseat Apple’s phone domination, it’s Google
This may be too little too late for a company trying to unseat Apple for a chunk of the market share, but it’s a step in the right direction.
In fact, if any company has the potential to unseat Apple’s phone domination, it’s Google, which has actually chalked victories against the Cupertino juggernaut. It’s unusual to beat Apple head-to-head in anything, and by my quick count, Google has done it many times: maps (Google Maps vs. Apple Maps), productivity (Google Docs vs. iWork), email (Gmail vs. Me/Mac/iCloud), storage (Google Drive vs. iCloud), and web browsing (Chrome vs. Safari). Of course, this merely means Google’s track record is better than most—not that it has done better than Apple.
Google still has a few things in its favor. Samsung’s exploding phones and Apple’s user-hostile decision of killing the headphone jack make a ripe landscape for an opening to attract alienated consumers. Furthermore, Google will have the ability to seamlessly link its entire suite of platforms into its device—giving it a leg up if CEO Sundar Pichai’s prediction about AI being the next big thing comes true. In the end, this may not be enough to vanquish Apple, but it’ll sure make first real foray into mobile devices interesting, if not auspicious.
Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumerism, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.