Google’s Pixel phones may be great phones with best-in-class cameras, but they won’t be toppling Apple’s iPhones or Samsung’s Galaxy phones anytime soon.
The company reportedly only shipped 3.9 million Pixel phones in 2017, according to IDC research director Francisco Jeronimo. For Google, that’s not too shabby for a newcomer — it’s twice the number of Pixels from the year before — but overall it’s still pretty weak, and a sign that there’s a long road ahead before the company even comes close to challenging Apple and Samsung.
iPhone and Galaxy phone sales dwarfed Pixel by a massive margin. Apple sold 216.7 million iPhones and Samsung sold 316.4 million Android smartphones last year, according to IDC numbers.
To really drive home how puny Pixel sales were: It only took Apple 6.5 days and Samsung 4.4 days to sell the same number of phones.
Look, I get it, the Pixel’s still the new guy on the block. Google’s only on its second generation of phones (the Nexus phones, which were never driven by a strategy of scale, don’t really count), but if you compare its 2017 shipments to Apple’s second-generation iPhone, the 3G, which sold 1 million units in its opening weekend, you start to see that it’s very clear very few people are leaping onto the Pixel train, despite a lavish marketing campaign.
In this respect, the Pixel is no different from the Nexus phones that came before it. The Pixel is still very much a niche phone for nerds. It’s the phone you want if you’re a diehard Android fan, and you’re willing to go out of their way to seek it out. The majority of people who are choosing Android are still buying a Samsung, even if means dealing with TouchWiz, carrier bloatware, and Bixby.
The Pixel is still very much a niche nerd phone.
Google’s Pixel phones were supposed to be the answer to the iPhone. Finally, Google was stepping in to own both the hardware and software and provide a bloatware-free Android experience.
But these sales numbers suggest it’s no iPhone, even if the phones are well-reviewed. The plan for Pixel is ambitious, but it may already be too late — Google should have built its own phones years ago. By now, most people have already picked sides and the customer lock-in for iPhone and Samsung is strong.
Though there are undoubtedly many reasons why Pixel sales were so disappointing, the most problematic is its lack of retail presence. In the U.S., the phone is only offered through one carrier: Verizon. The only other way to buy a Pixel is directly from Google.
As Huawei and many Chinese phone makers have learned, the key to the U.S. market is through carriers. Over 90 percent of phone sales are sold through carriers. You can sell the phones unlocked all you want, and even offer financing options, but if customers can’t walk into their carrier store of choice and buy your phone, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
Most of this is on Google, though. The company needs to figure out what makes the Pixel special. A great camera is a good start and so, too, is selling phones at under $1,000, but why should anyone defect to #TeamPixel if they’re already happily satisfied by iPhone or Samsung?
In answering that question, Google has been less than convincing. Whether it’s camera, AI, or just plain sexiness, the story of the Pixel isn’t attracting an audience. In the case of mobile, the revenge of the nerds is going to have to wait.