Can the Pixel 4a save Google’s smartphone business?

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The Pixel 4a has been a hot topic this past week. We learned that the launch may be delayed until June, a YouTuber who already has the phone did a performance review, and to top it all off, we got our hands on 16 wallpapers from the Pixel 4a that you can download. The biggest Google story of the week, however, gave us some insight into how the “a” series is doing for the company.

In case you missed it, a report outlined the exit of Google engineer Marc Levoy, a man who was instrumental in the development of the key features of the Google Camera app and thus the Pixel series’ photography prowess. That report also included some interesting information from IDC about Pixel sales numbers. The Pixel 4 was basically a flop as Google is estimated to have only sold 2 million units in the first two quarters of sales, but perhaps the most surprising revelation was that the Pixel 3a series sold fewer units than the Pixel 3 series did in their respective first two quarters of salesIDC estimates that the Pixel 3 series sold about 3.5 million units compared to 3 million units of the Pixel 3a series in the same timeframe.

This is shocking for a couple of reasons, as pointed out by Dan Seifert of The Verge. Many people in the tech community were convinced the Pixel 3a would fly off the shelves. After all, how could a $400 phone with Google’s software and camera not be a hit? There was also a general sense from Google that the Pixel 3a changed things for the company’s smartphone market share, and there were also initial reports that Google was gaining ground in the U.S. smartphone market on the back of the 3a. These estimated sales numbers from IDC, however, indicate the Pixel 3a was decidedly not the clear winner that everyone assumed it was.

Google Pixel 4a Forums

So what does all of this have to do with the Pixel 4a? In our view, it really changes the expectations for this launch. While the main Pixel series has never sold exceptionally well, the “a” series was hyped up to be Google’s breadwinner. Like the Pixel 3a, the 4a sounds great on paper, especially if the rumored $349 price for the 128GB storage variant is true. But now the idea of the Pixel 4a making waves seems unlikely.

Many people argue that the Pixel series is not all about sales numbers for Google. Instead, it’s about building a reputation of what Android on a smartphone should be like, putting Google services on the company’s own vision of hardware, and experimenting with crazy new software features. In many regards, they’ve been able to achieve all of that. People do generally recognize “Google phones” for having great cameras and widely praise Google for taking the security of their devices seriously. Ultimately, though, no company can continue to make products that people simply aren’t buying. If Google’s assumed “successes” are actually doing worse than its failures, then what does that say about the future of Pixel phones?

The average consumer in the U.S. (where Google products are most popular) likely still won’t be that interested in sub-$400 smartphones, especially since carrier deals and exclusives drive sales. We also don’t know exactly how the economic fallout of COVID-19 will affect sales, though Counterpoint Research believes that Q2 2020 sales will largely be driven by smartphones in the mid-level segment, which we can arguably slot the Pixel 4a into. Strategy Analytics estimates that the Samsung Galaxy A51 was the best-selling Android smartphone of Q1 2020 and that phone is widely considered to be the Pixel 4a’s primary Android competitor. But the Pixel 4a’s position as an affordable and competitive mid-range smartphone is only undeniable in the U.S. market.

In Europe and Asia, the Pixel 4a will have a much harder time competing with the many decent mid-range options from not just Samsung but also Xiaomi, OPPO, Realme, and others. In India, the Pixel 3a launched at a price of ₹39,999, or about ~$527, which is fairly close to the price of the base OnePlus 8 in the country. The reason for why the Pixel 3a’s Indian price is so high is because of import taxes, but this just goes to show the kind of competitive hurdles that Google needs to overcome outside of the U.S.

All of this paints a pretty grim picture for a device that has yet to be made official.

What are your thoughts on the Pixel 4a’s outlook and the future of the Pixel series?

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