New phone launches these days are pretty darn consistent. By and large, they’re all about the hardware and why this latest model is light years better than the one you saw last year: the snazzier design, the smaller bezels, the sharper display, and so on.

At this week’s Pixel 3 launchapalooza, Google took a decidedly different approach. Sure, its presenters glossed over some of those standard hardware high points — physical niceties that set the phone apart from its predecessor and give this latest model a reason to exist — but the real focus, and the sell for most people, was something far less tangible. Cementing a strategy the company started with its first Pixel two years ago and then refined with last year’s second-gen model, Google basically told us: Hey, hardware is fine and all, but everyone’s got the same stuff — and none of it is especially exciting anymore. Where we’re gonna shine is in an area where no one else can compete: software.

Not just software by itself, mind you, but software that meaningfully improves the real-world phone-using experience — and software that doesn’t stop evolving the minute you open the box but gets consistently better over time.

At its core, it’s a sound strategy. I’ve been saying for years now that smartphones themselves have become mere vessels in our mobile tech adventures: The phones are simply frameworks for the more impactful software, ecosystem, and overall user experiences that exist inside — and those latter pieces of the puzzle are the ones that affect us most significantly on a day-to-day basis over the life of a modern mobile device.

And Google, as a device-maker, has some unique assets it can mobilize in those areas. No other Android manufacturer has the incentive and ability to match its commitment — or even come close to matching its commitment — to providing timely and ongoing updates to existing devices. And delivery speed aside, only Google’s phones come with a guaranteed three full years of regular OS updates. For a device you’re spending several hundred dollars to own, that effectively means your investment will last 150 percent longer with a Pixel than with any other Android device, which at best will have a two-year window for software support (and usually with plenty of asterisks attached).

Google also gives Pixel owners free and unlimited full-resolution backups to Google Photos for the device’s entire three-year life — a benefit whose value can’t be overstated in a time when most of us take hundreds of photos and videos a month. And the company provides regular improvements to areas outside the operating system, too — like the laundry list of improvements announced for the Pixel 3’s camera and the super-intriguing robot call-screener feature launched alongside the phone, both of which will be making their way to the previous-gen Pixel models soon.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.