The iPhone SE 2020’s arrival this week almost certainly caused a bit of mild panic at Google HQ.
Alongside contending with two new OnePlus devices, and a hastily launched Galaxy S10 Lite, Apple has also dramatically slashed the price of its retro-looking, budget iPhone.
As I wrote in an article this week: the power of Apple’s brand is absolute. In the Pixel and Android forums I regularly scan, there were clear signs of mutiny. Long-standing Pixel fans openly expressed their desire to switch to Apple because of how affordable the new iPhone is.
Clearly the financial barrier to entry for Apple’s tech had been working in Google’s favour, until now. But that doesn’t mean all is lost for the upcoming mid-range Pixel 4a.
If there’s one thing you can count on when it comes to Pixel phones, it’s that they will be heavily – and repeatedly – discounted for their entire 12 month run.
Individual retailers cut prices, but Google does too. The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL – released last October – were discounted by $200 for Black Friday a month later. There were further price cuts in the run up to Christmas and just last week Target and Amazon cut the cost of the Pixel 4 and Pixel 3a.
It has been this way for all Pixel launches. For Apple’s tech it’s the complete opposite, which typically holds its value resolutely until the next release.
I expect similar treatment for the Pixel 4a – so it’s worth not only waiting for the handset’s release, but also waiting for a month or so after launch to see what deals emerge.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if Google drops the launch price to be more competitive with Apple. Or, perhaps, it offers some freebies with the 4a – like a discounted pair of the upcoming Pixel Buds or a free Nest device, which Google has done in the past.
On raw abilities I suspect Google’s Pixel 4a will best the iPhone SE’s camera. Google didn’t include the Pixel Neural Core in last year’s Pixel 3a (which is a large part of way Pixel phones take such good still photos) but Google promised a “Pixel 3-like experience” and it didn’t disappoint. We will certainly see the same this year, which is good news considering the excellence of the Pixel 4’s snapper.
I’m also keen to see what new Pixel-exclusive Assistant features Google launches alongside the 4a. Last year’s Pixel 4 came with the Recorder app, which automatically transcribes recordings (a necessity for journalists) and live captions, which automatically transcribes muted videos – a life saver on public transport (this eventually made it over to Samsung’s Galaxy S20 range).
It’s these small, unique, additions that can make a huge difference to your day-to-day smartphone usage. Google has done well in recent years to focus on improving the real-world experience of using a smartphone – with services like Duplex and the aforementioned apps – rather than more gimmicky tech like AR. There’s certainly more to come.
Google I/O is cancelled this year, but the search company will have updates on what it has been working on, which might appear as a blogpost alongside the announcement of the Pixel 4a.
We live in unusual, uncertain, times – so it shouldn’t be a surprise that tech companies are responding appropriately by dropping prices. Apple’s move is likely the first of many hastily changed pricing strategies for upcoming phones as economies tumble and people’s pay packets diminish.
Smartphone manufacturers still need to sell phones. In lieu of making as much money as possible from the upfront handset cost, they’ll happily settle for customers buying into their ecosystem at a discounted rate.
There are big launches coming from Samsung, Apple, Google, OnePlus, Sony and LG later this year and I imagine COVID-19 has changed a lot of plans. Google is first up with the Pixel 4a, so we’ll see how it reacts to both the outbreak and Apple’s newly discounted iPhone. But given the announcement is likely only a month away, I’d say wait to see what Google produces.