I’m two weeks into using the Pixel and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to iPhone despite having been a (mostly) loyal iPhone user for almost a decade.
The hardware is just as good
Pixel is the first phone to challenge iPhone on its own turf. Its build quality and software quality is as good as iPhone. Apple’s previously insurmountable advantage in product design and manufacturing has been bridged.
Pixel’s hardware feels solid and expensive. The screen is at least as good as iPhone’s. The camera is also as good or better. The fingerprint sensor is faster and more reliable. Battery life is longer and better managed.
The software is better
Pixel’s software is excellent. It’s better than iOS. Android has matured, and Google’s finishing layer that’s unique to Pixel is also excellent. Pixel’s OS is tasteful and well thought through. The jank previously native to Android has been excised.
More importantly, a lot of the software is materially better than iOS:
- Notifications are excellent. You manage them in the notification tray, on the notification. This is the paradigm that makes most sense. You can also take myriad actions directly from notifications. You can reply to messages, upvote a location in Foursquare, or look at a snapshot from your Nest cam in your notification tray. Apple tried to copy this functionality in recent versions of iOS but their copies are poor substitute’s for Google’s real thing.
- The OS share dialog on Android is also better. The share dialog offers the ability to share through apps, but also directly to people. You can choose to open WhatsApp or share directly to a frequently contacted friend on WhatsApp. Totally brilliant.
- Google Now integration is very good. Like with notifications, Apple’s attempt to copy this functionality in its left drawer and in the notifications tray falls far short of the real thing.
- Google Maps, Gmail and Google Calendar are all better on Android.
- GBoard is phenomenal. I’m swipe typing for the first time, and it’s awesome. Integrated GIF search and the like is also epic. Again, Apple’s attempts to copy this functionality fall far short.
- Assistant is epically good. Moving from Siri to Alexa felt like moving from an Apple II to a Lisa. Moving from Alexa to Assistant is like moving from Lisa to a Mac.
- Even small things are good and well thought through. Two factor authentication with Google services works with a fingerprint instead of a shared code from Google Authenticator. This is a very welcome and really nice flow that shows just how far Google has come in user experience design.
But it’s really about machine intelligence
These things by themselves might not be enough to get you to throw your iPhone away for a Pixel. It’s the AI that’ll get you to do that.
This past weekend Caroline and I were in Paris. We traveled home by way of the Eurostar at Gare du Nord, a Parisian train station. When we arrived at the station Android automatically pushed a card to me offering a translation of “Where do I buy train tickets?” from English to French. It also offered a convenient speaker button that I could use to have Google speak the phrase for me in French if I was unsure of my pronunciation.
Pixel knew that I was an English speaker, that I was visiting France, that they speak French in France, that I was in a train station, and that maybe I would like to be able to ask someone where to buy train tickets but might not have all the words to do so. That’s service.
This is only a small example of the machine intelligence baked into Pixel. Google Photos automatically organizes your pictures with facial recognition and other features.
The phone recommends coffee shops to you, tells you what museums to go to, and tells you what time you need to leave for you next appointment. It tells you when your bills are due.
You can ask Assistant “Who is Mariano Rivera?” and then “What’s he worth?” and it’ll answer both questions perfectly.
Apple is trying desperately to copy this functionality and is failing. To use Pixel is to understand how machine intelligence should be integrated into a phone and into your life.
Android phones used to be poor copies of iPhone. Now iPhone feels like a poor copy of the Pixel.
There are only two reasons not to switch
There are only two reasons not to switch to the Pixel: services lock-in (iMessage, FaceTime and iPhoto) and concern about switching to an unfamiliar platform.
Services lock-in is hard to fight. WhatsApp, Messenger and SMS are poor substitutes for iMessage and FaceTime. Android doesn’t offer a competitor, which is why Google released Allo and Duo. Pickup of Allo and Duo have been disappointing, which means that Google is at a structural disadvantage in this department. They’ve got to catch up here in order to truly compete effectively.
But on familiarity, Google has a winning strategy. You’re already using Android apps on your iPhone. Google Maps, Gmail, Google Calendar, Chrome, Sheets, Docs and Gboard are all iPhone apps built by Google in the style of Android, using Material Design. They are identical to their Android versions, only not as good.
This means that once you’ve used the Google suite of software on an iPhone you’ll barely notice the change to Android. You’re already used to Material Design. And other apps aren’t a problem either. Almost all of the apps you use on iPhone are available on Android, and these days they’re just as good.
This is now Google’s game to lose
At some point you’re going to see something on a Pixel or another flagship Android phone that wows you. It may be Assistant, or it may be in Google Photos or somewhere else. It’ll probably be an application of Google’s lead in machine intelligence, although it might be better notification handling or something like that. You’ll say “I want that,” and Apple’s excellence in hardware design won’t be enough to outweigh Google’s excellence in software. You’ll switch.
I still believe that Apple is ending a super cycle and starting a new one. They’re at a low point from which they’ll likely recover. But after experiencing Google Home and Pixel I’m convinced that recovery won’t be easy. Google has colonized my pocket with Pixel and our home with Google Home. Our TVs might soon get Chromecast.
This game is now Google’s to lose. They’re executing like champs. They’ve gotten me to put my shiny black iPhone 7 in a drawer, next to my now useless Apple Watch.
I don’t think I’m going back, and I’m increasingly convinced that the next great businesses are going to be built on top of Google Assistant.