Last week, we got a rare behind-the-scenes look at whatâ€™s going on with the Google Pixel hardware team. Unfortunately, the news was mostly bad, with internal complaints about the Google Pixel 4 design, poor sales of that device, and the exiting of two major players on the Pixel team.
This morning,Â The Verge published an audio interviewÂ conducted with Googleâ€™s (and Alphabetâ€™s) CEO Sundar Pichai. During the interview, Pichai discusses the Google Pixel hardware philosophies, the difficulties the company faces, and what the future holds for the Pixel division. He sums it up best when he says very matter-of-factly, â€œhardware is hard.â€�
Google Pixel hardware: â€˜Hardware is hard.â€�
In a summary article of the full interview forÂ The Vergecast, itâ€™s made pretty clear that this interview with Pichai was likely scheduled well before news broke about problems with the Google Pixel hardware team. As such, both Pichai and The Verge probably needed to figure out how to address the fresh news on the fly.
With that in mind, Pichai doesnâ€™t have much revelatory info to give on the situation. He does openly discuss the fact that Google has troubles with creating hardware and gives a synopsis of the companyâ€™s three-tier approach to hardware design. Unfortunately, though, he doesnâ€™t go much deeper than that and doesnâ€™t directly discuss the news of the Pixel 4â€™s apparent lack-of-success, the companyâ€™s own misgivings about the product, nor the departures of Google Pixel hardware team magnates Mario Queiroz and Marc Levoy.
Hereâ€™s a quote from Pichai about Google Pixel hardware:
The last couple of years have been a major integration phase for us because weâ€™ve combined our Google hardware efforts with Nest. We absorbed the mobile division of HTC. So itâ€™s been a lot of stitching together. And we have a wide product portfolio, too. So itâ€™s definitely been a building phase. Weâ€™re super committed to it for the long run. Hardware is hard. And it definitely has components, which take real time to get it right, thinking about underlying silicon or display or camera or any of those tacks. And so we are definitely investing in it, but that timeline. I think weâ€™ve made a lot of progress.
While Pichai saying that there have been difficulties in integrating Google-branded hardware efforts with the Nest team is both true and valid, it doesnâ€™t really paint a rosy picture of Google. When we talk about Google, we talk about one of the richest, most successful companies of all time, with huge power over both the tech industry and all our general lives. To think that a company of that magnitude canâ€™t quickly and seamlessly blend two of its divisions is kind of strange.
The three tiers of Google hardware
Moving on, Pichai discusses the three integral factors of successful hardware â€” including Google Pixel hardware â€” as far as he sees it. The full quote is below but see afterward for our bullet-list synopsis of what heâ€™s saying:
One is to drive computing forward. The second is we reallyÂ guide our ecosystem. Pretty much everything weâ€™ve done well, you can go all the way back and Androidâ€™s early days, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which we worked together, was a pivotal phone. Nexus 7 in the tablet world. I can point to Chromebooks â€” all along, we did our original hardware to kind of bootstrap it. And I look at areas maybe where we havenâ€™t done opinionated [work] â€” maybe [smart]watch is a good example where we havenâ€™t. And then you can see itâ€™s tough to guide an ecosystem to what your vision of it is, just building the underlying platform.
So I think thatâ€™s the second reason. And third is to reallyÂ build a sustainable hardware business. I think all of it is important, and thatâ€™s how I think about it. And Iâ€™m excited. Rick [Osterloh] and team, working closely with Hiroshi [Lockheimer] and team, they have that long-term view. So weâ€™re pretty committed to it.
In other words, these are the three things Pichai thinks are integral when it comes to Google Pixel hardware:
- Driving computing forward: This is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, Pichai thinks that hardwareâ€™s purpose is to make computing ascend to a new level. Itâ€™s important to note this, though, as heâ€™s essentially saying a smartphone isnâ€™t an end unto itself, but simply a means to create advancements in computing, which is a major aspect of Google Pixel hardware.
- Guiding the Google ecosystem: This is a major aspect of all Google hardware. Google doesnâ€™t just make laptops, for example. It makes Chromebooks that push all things Google so that trying to use the product without Google integration would be exceptionally difficult. Apple does the same thing.
- Sustainability: Pichai has been very outspoken about sustainability and his efforts run through nearly everything Google does, so this isnâ€™t too surprising. It is interesting, though, that this is such a core tenet of the Google Pixel hardware team that it would be on this list.
Probably the most interesting thing in the quote above, though, is Pichai admitting that Google hasnâ€™t been doing such a good job in the smartwatch space. Thatâ€™s hardly news to anyone who even passively follows the wearable industry, but interesting to hear from the company CEO.
Where does Google Pixel hardware go from here?
As I stated earlier, nothing Pichai says during the interview directly responds to the news of turmoil inside the Google Pixel hardware team. However, his statements do give us a bit of a clearer idea of how the company approaches hardware as a whole and that could help explain why Pixel phones look and function the ways in which they do.
The next big piece of Google hardware is the upcoming Google Pixel 4a, which should land at the beginning of June. It will be very interesting to see how that phone (expected to cost just $349) fares in the market, especially in comparison to the much more expensive Google Pixel 4 line.