Opinion – Google Pixel Has Only Sold 1 Million Units… Who Cares?

Yesterday, through some estimates made from the downloading of the Pixel Launcher from the Play Store, several reports surfaced on the number of Google Pixel phones that have been sold.  Based on the listing of the launcher in the Store, it is estimated that 1 million units have been sold since the phone launched in October 2016.

On the surface, given the vast number of Android devices in the market, this seems like a low sales number.  And it is frankly.  Samsung has sold some 5 million Galaxy S8 units in just a handful of months while other phones like the Huawei P10 have also pushed well past 1 million units.

But who cares?  While many will get wrapped around the axle on this low number, it is important to keep in mind Google never intended this device to be for the masses.  It is a flagship device with a premium price and I suspect that Google themselves aren’t too flustered over the low numbers.  Neither should you.

Late 2016 through this year so far has been a great year for Android phones.  I would argue that the two best phones I have ever reviewed since starting ClintonFitch.com back in 2004 have been in that time frame.  One is the Huawei P10 and the other is the Pixel XL.  Both of these phones, at any level, have been an absolute joy to use with amazing power, cameras and overall performance.  Couple that with the positive reviews of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the LG G6 – two phones I’ve not reviewed – and you complete a picture with plenty of top-end phones available to consumers.

Unlike the S8 and the G6 however, neither the Huawei P10 or the Google Pixel have been widely available.  Technically the P10 isn’t even available in the United States (although you can get one if you work at it) while the Pixel line up has been hamstrung since day one with availability challenges.  Once could contend that the limited numbers were on purpose.  Google wanted to keep the phone limited in availability to drive up interest and to assure that whatever number of devices they committed to last summer, they sold.  Personally, I’m not sure that was Google’s motivation but it shouldn’t be fully dismissed.

Rather, I think you have to look at the facts about the Pixel lineup.  It is a premium phone.  It starts at $649, is only available from the Google Store (or Project Fi if you are a subscriber) and Verizon here in the US.  That by default is going to limit the number of devices sold simply because there are so many who are committed to other carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint – that, while they may want the phone, can’t make a carrier change.

Secondly, by their own admission during the launch of the Pixel phones, Google was focused on two key things:  Photo quality and a pure Android experience.

Achievement Unlocked.

The photos out of the Pixel have been raved about even before the phone became available and given that Google controls all aspects of the Android build on the phones, you have what is likely the best, closest to what Google intended with Android, on these phones.  Not once, however, did they mention sales numbers.  Google never suggested they wanted to be the best selling phone in 2016 or 2017.  Like so many different projects within Google, the Pixel phones were just that:  A project.  It is a project that is going to continue for the foreseeable future with the next generation of phones already in the pipeline.  Google has the luxury of not really having to worry about selling a shedload of phones.  For them, it is about the experience.

Finally, there will inevitably be the comparison of the flagship Google Pixel to the Apple iPhone 7.  I haven’t seen it yet but it’ll happen.  I would again remind readers of two points.  First, as I’ve already suggested, the sales channels for the Pixel have been limited to one carrier and the Google Store while with Apple, you can get an iPhone from any major and minor carrier here in the United States (and globally for that matter).  So there is the simple sales methodology “top of the funnel” being huge for Apple and not-so-much for Google.  Second, Google did not intent the Pixel for the masses.  Indeed, Apple has been accused by Android bigots that they have made it fashionable to be exclusive.  I disagree given the massive number of iPhones that are in the market.  Indeed, if anyone can be accused of being exclusive, it would be Google in this case.  That is by design, but not necessarily snobbery.

So while there will be some who wring their hands over the low sales figures, I don’t think its worth the time.  I think Google really doesn’t care.  They have focused the Pixel lineup on the experience and from that perspective, they have won.