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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Google’s seven-year Pixel replace promise is historic — or meaningless

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I can’t consider Google lastly did it. I’m nonetheless in disbelief. An Android phone with seven years of updates — not safety patches, however actual OS and have updates? It’s extraordinary. It’s historic.

It’s the other of what we’ve come to count on from Google over the previous decade and alter — so many nice smartphone options sadly left locked away due to Android fragmentation, so many merchandise buried in the Google graveyard. With “seven years of OS upgrades, safety updates, function drops, and AI improvements,” will the brand new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Professional lastly break the cycle?

I used to be prepared to purchase a Pixel this week, and I nonetheless would possibly. I need to consider.

However throughout Google’s keynote, I seen a gaping gap in Google’s promise — and although we tried repeatedly, Google refused to meaningfully talk about that gap with The Verge this week.

The opening: Google is arbitrarily locking software program options behind the Pixel 8 Professional’s $999 paywall, regardless that the $699 Pixel 8 has the identical Google Tensor G3 processor, the identical digicam, and the identical seven-year assure.

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If Google is already arbitrarily dividing up software program options, what’s truly being promised over the following seven years?

Stunning solely out there on Pixel 8 Professional.
Picture: Google

Want to “zoom and enhance” photos like in the movies? That’s a Professional function. Bring Night Sight to your video? Gotta pay for the Professional. Even in the event you simply need to modify your digicam’s shutter pace or ISO manually, that’s thought-about a “Professional” management.

Solely the Pixel 8 Professional runs Google’s “basis” generative AI machine studying fashions on the machine itself, which powers the new real-time transcription summaries for Google Recorder, enhanced Magic Eraser, and even sensible replies in Google’s keyboard. Google spokesperson Matthew Flegal confirms to The Verge that each the Recorder Summaries and upgraded Magic Eraser are unique to the Pixel 8 Professional.

We requested Google: Why are these options unique? Don’t these telephones have the identical Tensor G3 and digicam sensor? Flegal replied:

These gadgets provide the most recent {hardware} and software program, together with quicker efficiency than ever earlier than, upgraded digicam sensors and the most recent AI powered options – all powered by the brand new Google Tensor G3. 

He additionally wrote that “not each replace is offered for each telephone because of numerous limitations,” with out describing these limitations. What may they presumably be? The Professional does have 12GB of RAM vs. 8GB on the non-Professional, however it’s arduous to think about that being the blocker on one thing so simple as digicam controls — or, for that matter, options that don’t even run in your machine however relatively within the cloud.

Talking of that, Google did tell Android Authority why one particular function is unique to Pixel 8 Professional: “the price of the cloud infrastructure required to run Video Increase processing” is behind the choice to gate it behind the pricier telephone for now. Video Increase is within the cloud, so it has nothing to do with the telephone’s capabilities and all the things to do with economics.

And admittedly, that’s what I’m anxious about for the whole lot of Google’s seven-year promise.

Do that logic on for dimension:

  1. Google is promising Recorder Summarize, Zoom Improve, and Good Reply in Gboard in future Pixel Function Drops.
  2. The Pixel 8 has seven years of assured Pixel Function Drops.
  3. The Pixel 8 is not going to obtain these options as a result of they’re unique to the Professional.

What is definitely being assured right here?

However let’s prolong the analogy additional. If Google is arbitrarily deciding that Pixel 8 patrons don’t deserve the identical software program options as Pixel 8 Professional patrons, why would we count on it give Pixel 8 Professional patrons the identical options as Pixel 9 Professional patrons subsequent 12 months when it’s bought new telephones to promote?

In reality, we’ve already seen Google do this actual type of factor: one 12 months in the past, the corporate told Phone Arena that the Pixel 7’s Clear Calling and Guided Body options would come to the Pixel 6 lineup. Guided Body remains to be MIA, and Flegal advised us in January that the Pixel 6 wouldn’t be getting Clear Calling after all.

I do have to provide Google credit score for bringing its auto-transcribing Recorder app and time-lapse camera mode to non-new Pixels in 2019, however that pattern hasn’t continued as comprehensively lately. Final March, Google admitted it could have given the Pixel 5, 5a and 4A 5G the best flavor of 5G cellular by way of a software program replace — however didn’t.

By the best way: the rationale I’m spending a lot time speaking about Pixel Function Drops as an alternative of Android OS variations is as a result of that is the promise that issues.

It was that Android working system updates have been all the things — the large arguments we had round Android fragmentation have been as a result of year-old telephones would miss out on new options and safety patches for months or years at a time because the OEMs and mobile carriers needed to certify a completely new working system to roll them out.

However all of that has modified: safety patches have been damaged out into their own distinct update channel; Google Cell Companies, Google Play Companies and particular person Google apps are all silently up to date and upgraded within the background. An precise new Android working system model quantity is much less of an occasion than ever.

Critically, Android 14 barely got a mention on the Google I/O developer convention or on the Made By Google {hardware} keynote this week. You’ll be excused for not noticing that the brand new working system is already rolling out.

Google didn’t make a giant deal of it as a result of, like trendy iOS updates, the modifications are fairly delicate! Simply take a look at Google’s personal video of Android 14’s “high 14 options,” which embody such minor issues as AI wallpaper and a monochrome theme.

Google is clearly saving its greatest concepts for its personal telephones, and there’s nothing incorrect with that. Nevertheless it’s additionally not arduous to think about a world the place Google drops the annual OS replace totally, like how Microsoft spent six years on Home windows 10 after calling it “the last version of Windows.”

This week, Google promised these new telephones would get “seven years of OS upgrades, safety updates, function drops, and AI improvements.” However that would nonetheless technically imply zero OS upgrades and no main new options if Google decides it’s not worthwhile to backport them from Pixel 9 to Pixel 8.

The very fact the Pixel 8 isn’t getting Pixel 8 Professional options doesn’t give me confidence. It looks like Google advised on itself proper out of the gate.

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