Google needs to figure out supply problems before the Pixel 6 launches

Google’s Pixel 6 is launching in October, according to rumors. Unlike the company’s immediately-preceding Pixels, this one is said to be competitive with rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the OnePlus 9 Pro on a pure hardware basis, with the software likely to be the deciding factor for customers. However, there’s an extra piece of the puzzle that’s been under-discussed. No matter how good the phone is, if you can’t buy it, it makes no difference. With the Pixel line, Google has historically been bad at delivering to a wide range of users across the globe. If Google intends for the Pixel 6 to make any kind of impact, it’ll need to overcome its own history of poor supply to do so. 

It’s easy to forget that the Pixel 6 isn’t the only Pixel coming this year. Google has also announced that it would be launching the Pixel 5a 5G, a trimmed-down version of the Pixel 5, in the U.S. and Japan. It’s not clear when it plans to launch this, but there’s still time before the company’s annual October event for the 5a to make a debut. Should you buy a Pixel 4a 5G right now or wait for the Pixel 5a that’s been pre-announced? It’s hard to say. This sort of muddled and unenthusiastic rollout has proven par for the course for the Pixel line, sadly. The Pixel 3a series, for one, went off sale months before the Pixel 4a series was ready to replace it. The Pixel 5 and 4a 5G series are frequently out of stock on Google’s official site, and so on. It’s one thing if Google can’t sell its phones to people who don’t want them; it’s another thing if it doesn’t seem like it wants to do so to people who do want to buy.

Google Pixel 5 face down on table.

On the other hand, if there was any Pixel that Google wanted to make an impact on, it would be this one. With the past few generations of Pixels, Google has veered into the experimental and aimed for limited, less ambitious products. With the Pixel 6, Google appears to wholeheartedly be embracing the excess of contemporary smartphones rather than reinventing the wheel with software. It’s putting in great cameras rather than relying solely on the excellent Google camera app, and the batteries are genuinely big and beefy ones rather than it using the adaptive battery it still has in Android 12.

Even if Google did have the will to launch the 6 properly, it might not be entirely within its power. It’s also easy to forget that there is an ongoing chip shortage that’s affecting all manufacturers of anything that has a chip in it. Samsung has been said to be working on mitigations for future products to work around this shortage, while Apple is more or less immune to it as a side effect of the scale the company works at. It has been reported to be ramping up its shipments of this year’s iPhone 13 to even higher levels than the previous year’s iPhones. 

“The supply crunch is impacting all smartphone vendors, but it will be especially difficult for Google, which does not drive high enough volumes to jump to the head of the line when components are in high demand,” Avi Greengart at Techsponential told Digital Trends.

Two Pixel 5 phones lying face down on table.

On the other hand, Google selling quite a few different Pixels could help rather than hurt this time around. Aside from selling two Pixel sizes, the 2021 Pixels are rumored to be coming with a mix of RAM and Storage combinations, as well as different colors. Last year, Google shipped its Pixels in one SKU, for the most part, with the only variation being limited runs of alternate colors —  white for the 4a 5G, blue for the 4a, and green for the 5. 

“Having more SKUs greatly increases the complexity but may actually route around some supply chain bottlenecks if it means that Google can only source a limited inventory of parts used in one model but not another. Matching that limited supply to consumer segment demand is an even bigger challenge, but there is only so much you can do — Google may end up with some SKUs completely sold out and others relatively easy to find.”

The Pixel line is an important one for Google. The company may be focused on software, but its hardware ambitions have been no secret over the years. If Google can nail the hardware and software experience of this phone — and it already looks like that’ll be a sure thing — then all it needs to do is to get devices in the hands of the people who want it while excitement remains.  

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