Google's new Pixel smart phones
Google's new Pixel smart phones

Well, now we know why Google hasn’t been trying to buy BlackBerry.

The search engine and Android OS giant announced Tuesday it will make its own smartphones, to be called Pixel. Although several handset makers have been partnered with Google to create Nexus phones, “we’ve now decided to take the next step and provide our take on the best Google experience, by bringing hardware and software design together under one roof,” Brian Rakowski, the company’s vice-president of product management, said in a blog.

The first two phones, Pixel phones, with 5-in. or the Pixel XL with 5.5-in screens, are available now for pre-order in Canada, the U.S., Britain, Germany and Australia, starting at US$649. They’ll run the Android 7.1 operating system, and, like Nexus phones, updates will be delivered directly from Google and not rely on clearance from carriers.

Nexus phones are being discontinued.

Pixel will initially be carried here by Bell Mobility, Rogers Communications and Telus. Rogers is offering the 128 GB Pixel at $529 on a two year plan or $1,029 straight up. The 32 GB version is $399 on a two year plan or $889 without a plan. Telus is offering the 32 GB Pixel at $200 on a two year $90 a month plan or $400 on an $80 a month plan.

One news report said the handsets will be available Oct. 20.

“It is designed to be an iPhone killer,” technology analyst Rob Enderle said in an email,  “heavy on back end services, consistency of experience, and innovation.  However many of the technologies are generation one, suggesting buyers should likely wait until it has been in the market a few months or for the second version to make sure they don’t have a Galaxy Note experience. [Samsung has notified Galaxy Note 7 owners of a serious battery problem.]

If successful Pixel will likely do more damage to Samsung, LG and other high end smart phone sellers on the Android platform because the cost for existing owners of devices on that platform is lower than for those on iOS devices, he added.  “But, make no mistake, this is Google executing on Microsoft’s old strategy embrace (get the apps), extend (innovate the hell out of the phone), extinguish (make it clear that Pixel, not iPhone, is what smart buyers use).”

According to IDC sales figures for the second quarter of this year, Android had 87.6 share of the smartphone market. Samsung continued as the leading manufacturer, helped by the new Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge. Apple iOS saw its market share for 2016Q2 decline by 21 per cent compared to the same period in 2015 with 40.3 million shipments. However, IDC expected better sales with this month’s release of iPhone 7.

On the other hand this Forbes article notes that according to Canaccord Genuity, even though Samsung sells more handsets than Apple, iPhone captured 91 per cent of the smartphone industry profits in 2015  and that Samsung was the only other profitable smartphone company with 14 per cent of the profits.

As one news site noted, the move means Google is copying Apple’s strategy of closely tying hardware and software. How Google’s Android  partners will react — companies like Samsung, Lenovo/Motorola, HTC (which is rumoured to be making Pixels), Huawei and others — is to be determined. But Microsoft is doing the same thing by making the Surface notebooks in competition with its partners.

The 5-in. Pixel promises a standby time of up to 19 days, talk time of up to 26 hours and Internet use time on an LTE network of up to 13 hours. It can last up to 7 hours on a 15 minute charge. The bigger Pixel XL has a bigger battery that promises a standby time of 23 days, talk time of up to 32 hours, Internet use time of up to 14 hours on an LTE network and similar charging time to the Pixel. Both have quad-core Snapdragon 821 processors and 4GB of memory.

Of interest to business users is that Pixels come with Google Assistant, an update of Google Now on current Android phones. As on the earlier version, just say “Ok Google” or touch and hold the Home button to activate. According to CNET, Google Assistant has a newer interface that is supposed to be friendlier and presents text answers in an easier to read way.

However, Computerworld U.S. quotes analyst Patrick Moorhead skeptical. “Everything Google showed onstage was very compelling, but as we have seen with most claims in intelligent assistants, rarely, if ever, have they lived up to the hype … Google and Google Now are very high quality, but to claim it is a game-changer, Google Assistant must do what it did on stage.”