Google’s Smartphone Retreat Follows Missed Opportunities

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Following several years of battling Apple  (AAPL) – Get Report and Samsung  (SSNLF)  in the high-end smartphone market with very mixed results, Google  (GOOG) – Get Report appears to be throwing in the towel. And one has to wonder here what could have been.

As many others have pointed out, Google’s $699 Pixel 5 phone, which was officially unveiled on Wednesday, has specs that fall short of those of many high-end Android phones, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S20 line or the OnePlus 8 Pro. To wit:

  • The Pixel 5 uses Qualcomm’s  (QCOM) – Get Report Snapdragon 765G processor, rather than its flagship Snapdragon 865G.
  • Whereas many high-end Android phones now have 6.5-inch or larger displays with 120Hz refresh rates, the Pixel 5 has a 6-inch display with a 90Hz refresh rate.
  • The Pixel 5 (like the Pixel 4) has only two rear cameras at a time when most $500-plus Android phones have three or four.

To be sure, the Pixel 5’s price makes it cheaper than phones than the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus ($999 and $1,199 MSRPs) and the OnePlus 8 Pro ($899 MSRP). But at a time when the smartphone has become the primary computing device for a very large percentage of consumers, many consumers — including many in the U.S., which appears to be by far the biggest market for the Pixel line — are clearly willing to pay a premium to get top-notch specs.

Moreover, the Pixel 5’s specs are also arguably inferior to those of Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE and standard OnePlus 8, both of which start at $699. The latter two devices both pack 6.5-inch displays (120Hz in the case of the S20 FE), three rear cameras and a variant of the Snapdragon 865, while also having somewhat larger batteries than the Pixel 5.

Low Sales Expectations

Put all of this together, and the Pixel 5 has the makings of a niche product. Indeed, Japan’s Nikkei reported on Wednesday that Google plans to make less than 1 million Pixel 5 units this year, and that production could be as low as 800,000.

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