On Tuesday, Google announced a series of new products, including the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL, and almost nothing about them was a surprise. In fact, the Pixel 4 might have been the most leaked about phone ever, making its announcement about as exciting as opening a birthday present you wrapped yourself. Actually, the birthday present would be more exciting, since it's presumably something you were looking forward to.

Look, Google isn't really a hardware company. Sure, it bought Nest a few years ago to beef up its hardware engineering chops, but honestly, that's not really its thing. Google is a software company whose core revenue-making business is selling digital advertising

Which is why its hardware events are always, well, interesting.

The hardware isn't bad--mostly due to the design influence of Nest, but there's nothing amazing about it. The new Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL feature Motion Sense gesture controls, as well as Google's version of FaceID--called Face Unlock, dual rear-facing cameras, and a much improved Google Assistant. 

Except, we already knew all of those things were coming because not only did just about every spec leak ahead of time, the actual device was seen in the wild, revealing the design ahead of the launch.

You might be tempted to ask how on earth Google could be so prone to leaks? Why would they want to undermine the excitement about new devices ahead of their launch event? The answer is simple: Apple. Or, more specifically, Google's events are never going to be as exciting as Apple's product launches. The same thing is true for Amazon and Microsoft. Both companies make good products, but they're never going to attract the attention of a new iPhone launch.

By the way, even if you hate the iPhone, Apple, and everything the company stands for, step back for a moment and recognize that at its peak, 2 million people watched the iPhone 11 live stream. And that was just on YouTube, which is owned by Google.

But, back to the Pixel 4. Google even tweeted out a photo of its flagship smartphone--back in June. 

Sure, there was still plenty of excitement for the new device, even with the specs leaked ahead of time. But Google avoided having to deal with leaks by getting in front of them and controlling the narrative. As a result, most of the anticipation was for a device that represents what Android should be on a smartphone, not because of the hardware itself. Again, Google is a software company that happens to make a phone to utilize its mobile operating system.

Except, that is, for the cameras. If Google does one thing better than anyone else, it's computational photography that makes the most of what you can do with the tiny camera sensors in a smartphone.

Yes, the iPhone 11 Pro has some serious camera chops, but that phone also costs a few hundred dollars more than the Pixel 4. If photography is something that you do with your phone (which let's be honest, is mostly what many of us do with our phones), Google wants you to know it means business. Google even forced Apple to step up its game with Night Mode, which Google phones have had for over a year now.

Which explains why the company had America's most famous portrait photographer, Annie Leibovitz, on hand to talk about just how great the cameras are. I'm not sure I buy that Leibovitz is walking around with a Pixel 4 taking portraits of former presidents and celebrities, but again, Google is showing that a flashy announcement (no camera pun intended) isn't the only way to introduce a flagship device.

If you can't do it better, you might as well find your own way to do it differently instead. The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL are available for pre-order now starting at $799/$899 respectively, and ship at the end of the month.

Published on: Oct 17, 2019
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