Pixel phones are Google’s chance to out-innovate Apple

The twin phones Google will launch Tuesday will show the company is finally serious about tackling the iPhone head-on. And they couldn’t be arriving at a better time.

With iPhone demand falling and many fans disappointed with the improvements Apple has made with the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, it’s a perfect opportunity for Google to prove it can out-innovate its biggest rival in the smartphone industry.

Apple was handed a lucky break when Samsung was forced to recall the Galaxy Note 7 just weeks after it went on sale due to faulty batteries. The flagship phablet launched to rave reviews and looked like it would make life even tougher for Apple’s “boring” iPhone refresh.

As it turns out, the Note 7 wasn’t even available when the iPhone 7 went up for pre-order. Samsung’s recall meant that all 2.5 million devices it had sold up to that point had to be recalled and replaced, and it simply couldn’t get new units to market quick enough.

[contextly_auto_sidebar] Samsung says that around 90 percent of Note 7 owners chose to take a replacement Note 7 when returning their original, but a recent report from SurveyMonkey revealed that around 26 percent of early adopters were planning to switch to iPhone instead.

This has helped boost iPhone 7 sales, according to reliable KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. However, even with that boost, it’s thought shipments of Apple’s newest smartphone will only just match those of last year’s disappointing iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.

It’s not that the iPhone 7 is a bad phone. It’s blazing fast. It’s water-resistant. It has a stellar camera and stereo speakers. It has an improved Retina HD display. And it’s available in stunning jet black. But it’s not a significant upgrade over iPhone 6s — or even iPhone 6.

This year’s iPhone looks almost identical to last year’s — and the one that came before it. The 4.7-inch model desperately needs more pixels (1280×750 just isn’t sharp enough in 2016), and a bigger battery. There is no wireless charging. NFC is still exclusively for Apple Pay.

This gives Apple’s rivals a great chance to capitalize on the boredom many long-time iPhone fans are experiencing now. Samsung is trying — its Note 7 is still selling like hot cakes in the few markets it is currently available — but it kind of blew its chance with the recall.

Google can’t afford to do that. Its new Pixel phones have to be the best Android smartphones available. They need to deliver premium design, the best specifications available, excellent cameras, and all the features you’d expect from a high-end Android.

According to the leaks, they should check at least a few of those boxes.

Built by HTC, both Pixel phones look incredibly pretty. In fact, they look a lot like iPhone clones that run Android, with aluminum unibodies that wrap around at the edges to seamlessly blend into the 2.5D curved glass that covers the display.

They’re expected to deliver a new Snapdragon 821 processor from Qualcomm, coupled with 4GB of RAM (that’s twice as much as you get in the 4.7-inch iPhone 7), up to 128GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot, super sharp displays, and big batteries.

They will also ship with Android 7.1 Nougat pre-installed, which boasts new features like split-screen multitasking, and old Android favorites like a file manager and all the customization options you can shake a stick at.

If you’re a long-time iPhone owner who needs a change, what more could you ask for?

There’s no need to worry about bloatware that slows things down, because Pixel phones will be running stock Android that’s free from third-party tweaks. You’ll also get immediate software updates because they’re Google phones, so that’s another concern you can forget.

Google just needs to ensure it doesn’t screw anything up. When you want to do battle with the iPhone, you can’t afford to cut corners. If its cameras suck, its speakers are poor, or it’s missing big features like water-resistance, the company will be blowing a great opportunity.

Next year’s iPhone refresh won’t be so boring. It’s the handset’s tenth anniversary, and you can be sure Apple will have something special up its sleeve for that. Kuo expects all-new designs made out of stainless steel and glass, and the iPhone’s first OLED displays.

Google probably won’t get another opportunity to out-innovate Apple for some time, then. It needs to grab this one with both hands.