Don't wave off Pixel 4's hands-free functions

Google's new Pixel 4 phones have a Motion Sense feature that lets you skip songs, mute alarms and answer or end calls without touching the device.
The new Pixel 4 phone on display at a product launch in New York on Tuesday. A miniature radar at the front of the smartphone allows users to snooze alarms and skip audio tracks by simply waving their hand.
The new Pixel 4 phone on display at a product launch in New York on Tuesday. A miniature radar at the front of the smartphone allows users to snooze alarms and skip audio tracks by simply waving their hand.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Gesture controls a first for a smartphone, but Pixel sales still lagging behind after 3 years

With Google's latest Pixel 4 smartphones - unveiled in New York on Tuesday - users can snooze alarms and skip audio tracks by simply waving their hand.

These gesture controls rely on a miniature radar at the front of the phone - a first for a smartphone.

But no amount of hand-waving can detract from the fact that Pixel sales have yet to take off globally after more than three years.

While the company has never shared actual sales numbers, market research firm IDC estimated that Google had less than 1 per cent share of the global smartphone market in the first half of this year.

Mr Thomas Husson, principal analyst at market research firm Forrester, said: "Pixel smartphones demonstrate Google's willingness to more tightly integrate hardware and software a la Apple, but they have not been a massive sales success story for now."

Pixel sales did receive a significant boost later in the year after new, cheaper Pixel 3a models were released in May, Google said.

But Mr Husson said Google needs to improve its "retail execution and partnerships with telcos" and show that the Pixel's tight integration with Android delivers a better experience than its rivals.

In Singapore, StarHub is the only telco to offer the Pixel 4, unlike last year's Pixel 3, which was available from Singtel and StarHub. The phone is also sold here by retailers Courts and Challenger, as well as Google's online store.

The reach of Pixel phones is likely to increase in the United States, where the Pixel 4 will be available from all major US telcos. Older Pixel flagship models were exclusive to Verizon.

In Singapore, StarHub is the only telco to offer the Pixel 4, unlike last year's Pixel 3, which was available from Singtel and StarHub. The phone is also sold here by retailers Courts and Challenger, as well as Google's online store.

Mr Loo Wee Teck, head of consumer electronics research at market research firm Euromonitor International, said Pixel phones are not competitive enough with other manufacturers in terms of pricing, design and features.

"While Pixel phones offer timely updates, most users in Singapore replace their smartphones every 18 months, which renders the Pixel's only advantage redundant."

The Pixel 4 is also available in only 12 countries, one fewer than in the case of last year's model. India was left out this year, with reports saying the frequency that Pixel 4's new radar feature uses is not approved for civilian use.

 

In comparison, Apple's iPhone 3G was sold in 22 countries more than a decade ago.

Like recent iPhones, Pixel 4 uses facial recognition and lacks a fingerprint sensor. Google said its face unlock is the fastest on a phone and is secure enough to be used for banking apps. Face data collected by the phone is securely stored in an on-board chip.

Other hardware upgrades in the Pixel 4 include an additional telephoto camera and a smoother, more responsive display. The Pixel 4 also comes with an improved Google Assistant that can answer a user's queries up to 10 times faster, and understand contextual cues.

The 6.5-inch Pixel 4 XL and the 5.7-inch Pixel 4 differ only in their screen sizes and batteries. The phones will be available in Singapore from Oct 24. The Pixel 4 XL is priced at $1,319 (64GB) and $1,469 (128GB), and the Pixel 4 costs $1,119 (64GB) and $1,269 (128GB).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2019, with the headline 'Don't wave off Pixel 4's hands-free functions'. Print Edition | Subscribe