As is often the case with Google, the product was way more impressive than the presentation.
At its #MadeByGoogle event in San Francisco Tuesday, the search and software giant tried valiantly to make itself over into a hardware giant — but was consistently hampered by some seriously low-energy marketing.
SEE ALSO: Say hello to the Pixel and Pixel XL, the first of a new breed of Google phone
Exhibit A: the Google Pixel phone. We'll have to wait a few days to get more than a quick hands-on preview, but preliminary specs suggest this could be what the world of Android has been seeking for years: The one true iPhone killer. (Headphone jack included.)
But if you weren't really paying attention, you'd hardly know it. And Google missed a golden opportunity to drive the knife into its rival, let alone twist it.
The camera technology, long one of the main reasons for sticking with iOS devices, is apparently rated better than the iPhone 7 — but we learned about the Apple device's supposed inferiority from a slide, not from the mouths of the presenters.
The Google Pixel Phone: better than the iPhone 7?
SEE ALSO: What Google gets wrong about hardware
Google execs were more interested in telling us that Pixel owners will get free cloud storage for all their photos and videos. Fair enough — that's a huge deal — but why not also point out that Apple's iCloud only offers a paltry 5GB for free?
We're at a unique moment in smartphone history, a potential tipping point. Apple dropped the ball with the iPhone 7 by claiming it was an act of "courage" to remove the universally beloved aux jack — rather than an act that nudges its customers into buying AirPods or clunky charging-and-listening dongles. An act that leaves partners like Square, and a host of other hardware companies that relied on the aux jack, twisting in the wind.
SEE ALSO: No, Apple, killing your headphone jack is not 'courage'
I'm willing to bet there are millions of iPhone 6 or 6S owners like me, who feel let down by the iPhone 7, abandoned by Apple, and unsure about what to upgrade to next. We're willing to consider Android. Google needs to close the sale.
Whoever made the Google Pixel TV ad had the right idea. "3.5mm headphone jack satisfyingly not new," it says — for one second, while a background voice coughs apologetically. That could have been a whole other ad right there.
This is #Pixel . The first phone #madebygoogle , inside and out. Find out more → https://t.co/bZFnoCg3oF pic.twitter.com/drtTuJKNgv
— Google (@google) October 4, 2016
Google could have presented itself like a presidential candidate, as the only sensible alternative. They could have, say, brought Jack Dorsey up on the stage to talk about how Square dongles will still work with this phone. Imagine the headlines: "Jack stands up for missing jack." (Okay, that one needs work, but you get the idea.)
Google pointed out that its phone had "no camera bump," but didn't explain — for the benefit of people who aren't watching this space 24/7 — why that's a big deal (Apple's last two phones arrived with a sticky-out lens that is unsightly to some).
In the mass market, you don't get points for playing coy.
Pixel comes with a Lightning-to-mini USB cable that apparently lets you switch all your information seamlessly from the iPhone to the Pixel. That's huge. But again, Google required us to pay attention to the picture:
That's definitely an iPhone. #GooglePixel pic.twitter.com/EOx2aNA8F2
— Karissa Bell (@karissabe) October 4, 2016
The color names for the Pixel felt kind of like subtle trolling as well. The phone comes in "Quite Black, Really Blue and Very Silver."
I'm surely not the only iOS lover who laughed out loud at that slide, instantly seeing the contrast with Apple's overly serious obsession with designing new colors and finishes like "jet black." (Which, some users say, is prone to scratches and fingerprints — again, there's a missed opportunity to tout the "Quite Black" Pixel as "fingerprint free.")
Apple isn't shy about attacking its rival. You may remember Tim Cook's 2014 keynote where he described Android as a "toxic hellstew" — fighting words if ever I heard them.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai's response was the definition of weak sauce: "It must be liberating [for Apple] to wake up and think about your device, your software, and hey, ‘I can even call the chipset guys and say what the chip should be," he told Bloomberg Businessweek, evidently attempting to throw shade at the fact that Apple builds its own phones. "History shows typically that malware is also targeted at the more popular operating system. So, you know, there is that."
Well, now Google is committed to building its own smartphones, too — more committed than it ever was with the Nexus. Pichai can finally call up his own chipset guys, not to mention his marketing department.
He can take this fight to Apple. He can get aggressive. Or he can let the Pixel settle into the comfortable, kinda-interesting relative obscurity that its Chromebook laptop namesake now inhabits.
So, you know, there is that.