Google's newest device is basically the Southwest Airlines of smartphones. It isn't fancy. It doesn't have assigned seats, er, I mean the fastest specs. And it isn't the best looking phone on the market. But it costs much less, and it gets the job done. In fact, Google's marketing message for these new phones is literally, "the phone that gets it done," which honestly, is brilliant.
For years, the strategy of smartphone makers has been to create devices that push the limits of features, design, and as a result, price. Every year, devices seem to be getting faster, larger, and more expensive.
The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.
Last week, Google announced its newest pair of phones, the Pixel 3a, and Pixel 3aXL, which are essentially lower-powered versions of the Pixel 3 it released last year. Basically, Google stripped out some of the high-performance hardware and released them at much more affordable prices.
Still, the highlight of these new devices is that they feature the same cameras and image processing technology of their predecessors while cutting the price in half.
The Pixel 3 family was already known for its powerful camera technology and Google seems to have recognized that the thing a lot of people really want in their phone isn't always the most high-tech specs. Mostly they want a great camera and a great screen on a device that doesn't choke when opening the apps they use every day.
The Pixel 3a delivers for $399.
Google, of course, is in a different position than Apple and Samsung, who make their profits off $1,000+ smartphones. Google, on the other hand, wasn't really selling very many of it's latest devices anyway. As a result, it can afford to take a risk on capturing a part of the market that until now has been served by budget phones and 3-year-old models like the iPhone 7.
Here's the reality if you're an entrepreneur that depends on their smartphone to stay connected to their business: Google wants to help. I mean, mostly they want to sell you advertising services, but they also really want to sell you smartphones that get the job done.
The best smartphone buy right now.
If you're looking for a device that runs your business productivity apps like Gmail and Slack, takes great photos, and you're not already in the grips of the Apple ecosystem, it's hard to see why the Pixel 3a isn't the best smartphone to buy right now. I didn't say the most powerful-- it's not. It's definitely not future-proof, or for that matter, waterproof.
Still, even if you have to replace it more often, do the math. If you buy an iPhone XS, you'll probably spend $1,000. Assume its replacement is also $1,000 in three years when you upgrade. That's $2,000 over three years. I don't think there's much chance you're going to wear through five $399 Pixel 3a's during that same time period.
Besides, Google isn't targeting iPhone users. No one in the market for a $1,000 iPhone XS--or even the lower-priced XR-- is going to switch to a Pixel 3a.
However, there is still a huge gap in the market between the top-end devices from Apple or Samsung and low-cost budget phones. Google thinks they've figured out how to finally fill that gap.
I'm not sure that Google's overall play here will necessarily change the smartphone industry. Southwest Airlines is thriving, but so are Delta and American. What I think we're about to discover is how much room there is for devices that lack the leading edge specs, and instead, focus on what it takes to "get it done," at prices that have hopefully begun their initial descent for landing.
That's an idea I think we'd all like to see take off.