After 4 years, Google has launched its flagship Pixel smartphones in India – the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. It has priced the phones aggressively too, at Rs 59,999 and Rs 84,999, coupled with superlative discounts on its online retail partner Flipkart.
There are positive signs, here as the creator of Android indicates a desire to not only launch its best products, but also price them competitively for a price-sensitive market. But these phones also duel with the likes of Apple’s iPhone 14 and Samsung’s Galaxy brand of premier Android phones, both of which are well entrenched in the premium segment of the market. Google knew if these phones were to compete, they needed to be more affordable.
The interesting tidbit is that Google has botched things with its Pixel phones so royally in India in the past that the aggressive pricing of the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro will not make Apple or Samsung sweat. That’s why, since 2018, it hasn’t launched the Pixel 4, Pixel 5 and Pixel 6 lines in India. It can only capitalise on the missteps of OnePlus, which has forgotten its faithful enthusiasts in order to gain market share, and perhaps can trample on the dreams of other Chinese OEMs like Vivo and Xiaomi to capture a more premium customer, which is admittedly a more lucrative business.
Need to resolve after-sales support
Since the launch of the first Pixel phone in 2016, Google’s track record for after-sales support has been atrocious, to say the least. People would often complain about next to non-existent after-sales for phones that were priced at upwards of INR 50,000. A premium customer expects premium after-sales.
Google’s after-sales experience has been worse than what even a budget customer would experience. It only provides online 24×7 customer support and a pick-up and drop service for faulty devices. That’s not changed even right now.
However, its executives promise that it is working in the background to make things better. But as many former Pixel customers experienced, God forbid if there was a hardware issue, the phone wouldn’t be rectified for weeks or months due to limited service centres and paucity of spare parts.
Google’s phones are still not assembled in India, which further exacerbates the problem. In the past, it hasn’t sold many phones, which is why spare part inventory has been scarce. People often praise the Pixel user experience, which is universally lauded as one of the best smartphone experiences available. The issues arise after the purchase, when something in the phone fails. And that will be crucial for the success of these new Pixel flagship phones.
Since October 2018, when it last launched a flagship Pixel phone, Google has focused on the rather affordable Pixel A series of phones, like the Pixel 3A (2019), Pixel 4A (2020), and more recently, Pixel 6A (2022).
It has had moderate success with these phones in India, where the combination of the Google brand, pure Android and Pixel’s legendary camera prowess has helped these phones move the needle due to lower prices. But after-sales will be a key aspect of the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro as they do battle with the likes of OnePlus, Xiaomi, and Vivo let alone Apple and Samsung.
Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are competitive but not game-changing
On the face of it — Google has solid offerings with unique differentiators. These two Pixel 7 phones have been updated with a new design, new cameras that are expected to be excellent, and pure, unadulterated Android that requires less processing hardware. These phones are also very secure with Google’s Titan chip. They also come with software tricks like a magic eraser, which can remove unwanted subjects from an image; a tool for unblur blurry photos, even photos taken from other phones; and a voice transcription tool for its messages app. Like other premium phones in India, they also support 5G, but don’t expect to use it on your Pixel immediately, as like Apple and Samsung, Google is conducting tests with carriers like Jio and Airtel.
But then again, even when compared to the Pixel 6A, it gets many of these features. And one shouldn’t expect it to be dramatically faster than the Pixel for masses as the new Tensor G2 chip is largely similar to first generation Tensor in the 6A, with updates to elements that focus on AI and machine learning witchcraft that makes Google’s cameras so special. Pixel has also lost its de facto lead in mobile photography as smartphone makers like Apple, Samsung, Vivo, and Xiaomi have all caught up, if not surpassed it.
Hence, the aggressive pricing — but it needs to be coupled with world-class after-sales. So far, from what Google has revealed, there is not much movement on that front. Google also has to contend with supply chain issues, as already on Flipkart the new Pixel 7 line is out of stock before its 13 October public release. Importing phones has its drawbacks and how Google and Flipkart manage that will also determine the success of Pixel 7 as there is no other way, offline or online, apart from Flipkart, to buy this phone. It is also one of the reasons why Google elected to not launch the new Pixel Watch in India.
There are some advantages to the way Google has priced this phone, but that is the only way it could have succeeded. But for the long-term health of the Pixel brand, it needs to do more. And if it gets its act right, it will perhaps not worry Apple or Samsung in the medium term, but it will rattle the legion of Chinese smartphone makers. They all want to graduate to a wealthier audience but will have another roadblock in the form of the inventor of the operating system they all use, besides the Indian government, which has trained its crosshairs on them in wake of India’s clashes with China.
But what bodes well is the fact that there are already reports that indicate Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai tabled a plan to manufacture the Pixel line in India earlier this year. However, that plan is not set in stone, but that could happen regardless of a need to serve India because of geopolitical issues and supply chain crunches triggered by lockdowns in China. In fact, for the affordable Pixel 4a and Pixel 5, Google manufactured the devices in Vietnam, so a dependency on China is not ironclad as before. This could further make things easier for the Pixel in India as almost all its competition is made in India, which equates to a disadvantage on profit margins.
Sahil Mohan Gupta is a technology journalist based out of New Delhi. He tweets at @DigitallyBones
(Edited by Tarannum Khan)