After breathlessly listing off the Google Pixel 4’s many new features — including a radar chip capable of detecting gestures, as well as a voice recorder app and a slicker display (we hadn’t even gotten to the cameras yet) — Sabrina Ellis, the company’s vice president of product, dropped another development: The phone would be available for sale at every major US carrier.
“We’re excited that people will be able to find Pixel in even more places,” Ellis said.
The reaction, at least according to the livestream from the , was muted at first. There were only a handful of claps before others joined in on the applause. It’s as if people were processing whether this was a good thing or not.
But don’t let that uncertainty fool you — it’s absolutely a good thing.
Since the original Pixel phone launched in 2016, Google and Verizon have been tied at the hip, with the nation’s largest carrier serving as the exclusive partner for the phone franchise. That changed when Google unveiled the budget Pixel 3A in May, which was made available on multiple carriers for the first time.
But the Pixel 4’s availability on multiple carriers puts Google’s marquee smartphone in potentially more hands than ever. That added reach means the Pixel phone won’t just be a smartphone for Android enthusiasts and the tech-savvy, but something for the masses more akin to the iPhone 11 or Galaxy S10.
“This means broader reach for consumers and more marketing and promotions opportunity to move beyond early adopters,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies.
Exclusivity out of fashion
Even when Google first kicked off its Pixel program with the original smartphone, some questioned whether the company should’ve gone the route of an exclusivity agreement. By the time the Pixel 2 came out in 2017, T-Mobile was offering an incentive to Verizon customers to switch carriers and keep their Google phone.
Exclusivity agreements are a product of an older era of carrier distribution and phone pricing. Remember, the iPhone was locked up with AT&T for years, and Verizon had a spate of Droid-branded smartphones as exclusives.
But both iPhones and Samsung phones are now all available on multiple carriers, as are many other flagship phones. It made sense to get the marketing boost and bigger presence in Verizon’s stores early on — especially since it’s long been the biggest player in the market.
Verizon didn’t comment on the Pixel’s move to other carriers.
But now the Pixel should benefit from being available in more stores and at more carriers around the country. Shortly after the Pixel 4 was made officials, our inboxes were flooded with deals and announcements from the different carriers, all touting the new Google phone.
Google already had evidence that an expanded presence would help. The Pixel 3A, which starts at $399, doubled the unit sales of Pixel products in the second quarter, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said on an analyst call in July. He specifically credited the expanded distribution network.
While the Pixel name holds a lot of weight with the tech-savvy, it hasn’t ever been a heavyweight in terms of sales. On IDC’s ranking of the top five smartphone companies, Google doesn’t make the cut.
But between the Pixel 3A and Pixel 4, consumers everywhere will get more choices when it comes to smartphones.
That’s something to applaud.