Google finished off its Made by Google event this week by confirming that its new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro smartphones would receive a full 7 years of software support. Those years will see security patches, Pixel Feature Drop releases, and Android OS upgrades land on their newest phones, giving them a level of support not seen in the smartphone industry. Not even Apple has any sort of official commitment this long for the iPhone.
It’s a big deal that Google has made this promise. Most people responded initially by acknowledging this as the big deal it is. But as the week has progressed, the tone is changing and getting weirder at the same time. We’re now at the point where tech media has turned and will now have you believe Google should be questioned, is untrustworthy, and that their promise means nothing. Here’s a video by Linus, another by MKBHD, and an article by The Verge, all laying out why this software update promise is nothing but a bunch of lying, meaningless, horseshit. OK, they didn’t go that far, but it sounded fun as I typed it and they also should have included this emoji (🤔) in their titles to fully sell it. I’m disappointed in the missed opportunity here.
So there are two arguments being made in this situation. The first is that because Google kills off services and products all of the time, that taking their word for a 7-year promise is foolish. In other words, you might not want to trust them because they killed off a Pixel Pass that 25 people signed up for, a Google Podcasts app that was basically a browser in an app shell that was given a proper replacement, a niche business presentation screen in Jamboard, and Stadia…freaking Stadia. They gave you all of your money back and let you keep the controller, guys.
Look, when Google promised 3 years of OS and security updates for the first several Pixel phones, no one questioned whether or not they would deliver those. They just accepted the terms and instead complained that Google wasn’t supporting their phones long enough. They then upped the level of support to 3 OS updates and 5 years of security patches. That, again, wasn’t questioned as being an untrustworthy move, but was instead clowned for still not being enough because Samsung and Apple support their phones for longer (Samsung doesn’t really, by the way). Seriously, someone find me an article written from the Pixel 1 up through the Pixel 7 Pro or Fold where someone said, “Google shouldn’t be trusted to support these phones.”
But now that Google has committed to longer support periods than both Samsung and Apple, we should question them. Except when Samsung kept extending their commitment to 3 and 4 and 5 years of updates, people didn’t question that. The company whose phones at one time blew up on airplanes and who promised over and over again that they were going to ship a smart speaker (see, comparisons that make no sense – I too can do these), wasn’t questioned. We just took their promises, even though their early history of updating phones wasn’t great, and went with it. And yet, it’s Google that we should question the level of trustworthiness from and lean towards the idea that they might just kill Pixel phones as a product line or that level of support at any moment, without notice.
The history of Google supporting both Nexus and Pixel phones (and Chrome OS) has been very good, in case you were still thinking about Stadia as a product to compare Pixel software support to. We are on the 8th generation of Pixel phones and Google has lived up to all software commitments thus far. They delivered all of the promised updates and then some, in some cases. They have been doing this for 7 years of Pixel releases (going into the 8th now), and more if you consider Nexus. That’s a really long time. That should build some trust, no?
Google isn’t allowed to have a Pro phone with extra features
The other argument spreading at the moment is this idea that Google is in the wrong for having a “Pro” model phone that has different features than the non-Pro version of the phone. This is bad because it means Google is putting a price tag on special features (like new AI-powered ideas, Pro camera controls, and extra video tools) and that they are limiting another phone when it should be able to support those same features.
You know who does this every single year without question? Apple. Yeah, you knew that. No one is out here going, “The iPhone 15 should have the same features as the iPhone 15 Pro Max!” That would be a dumb argument. No one is even tempted to make that argument, right?
Need an example of Apple withholding a feature? How about the always-on display. The iPhone 15 has an OLED display and the A16 Bionic chip powering it, which was the chip powering the Pro-level iPhone 14 Pro the year before, yet it doesn’t have an always-on display. Why not? Because Apple wants that simple software feature to be a Pro-level feature. Apple has also limited its new Night Mode Portrait mode to only phones labeled as “Pro” back through the iPhone 12 Pro (and its older A12 Bionic chip and camera), because again, they want this to be a Pro feature.
The Pixel 8 is not supposed to be the small version of the Pixel 8 Pro. Why is that hard to understand? Maybe Google didn’t do a good enough job of expressing that idea with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 lines and expectations aren’t where they should be. Maybe it’s because Apple offers two sizes of its Pro and non-Pro phones and Google only offers 1 of each that people believe should be the same. I don’t know, but I can tell you that for the launch of the Pixel 8 Pro, Google is making it clear that they view the 8 Pro as a level above the Pixel 8.
And that’s why they are asking $300 more for the Pixel 8 Pro – they are asking you to pay for more stuff. Like Apple does. The iPhone 15 is hundreds less than the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Whether you get it or not, these are the two phones that best represent the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro situation. These are the phones you should be making comparisons with, not as if the Pixel 8 is just a small Pixel 8 Pro – it isn’t. Google isn’t telling you that it is.
Does that mean as the 7 years of updates move forward that the Pixel 8 Pro is going to get features that the Pixel 8 doesn’t? Yes. Does it mean the Pixel 9 Pro could ship with features that the Pixel 8 Pro may not see? Maybe, yeah. As new chips and other technologies are introduced, the 8 Pro might not be able to do what the 9 Pro or 10 Pro can do. That’s reality. That also happens with all phone lines from every phone maker.
Look, I’m not sitting here saying that I love what Google is doing. I wish there was big and small Pixel 8 Pro phones. What I’m telling you is that Google is giving you a non-Pro and a Pro-level phone that they want to be seen as different. They want you to get more if you pay for the Pro phone, just like Apple is doing, and that’s the play. It’s up to us to decide if we want to pay more for the goods or not, but that’s what they are selling us with the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro.
I’m not sure how Google running the playbook of Apple means they are untrustworthy or telling on themselves. In fact, yes, they told us what they were doing and then everyone went, “Whaaaaa?”