[Update: Poll results out] Should Google expand Pixel-exclusive features to other Android devices?

New updates are being added to the bottom of this story…

Original story (from September 19, 2022) follows:

Google Pixel phones aren’t known for their hardware, but for the unique software features they pack not just over other Android devices, but also Apple’s iPhone.

Ever since the Pixel’s debut, Google has spiraled towards making customized software for its most prized handheld in order to stand out in the crowded smartphone market.

But despite Google’s best efforts to carve out a market for itself by offering exclusive features, the Pixel market share remains a drop in the ocean compared to Samsung, Apple and other smartphone vendors.

Google-Pixel-market-share-USA
Click/tap to view

The recent Pixel 6 series is perhaps Google’s best effort towards perfecting its smartphone hardware, but the many software-related bugs and issues faced have been a thorn in the foot for many.

While the update to Android 13 has been instrumental in improving the performance of the phones, not everyone shares the same sentiments. Still, the wider hope is that the Pixel 7 doesn’t inherit any of the Pixel 6 issues.

But even as Pixel fanboys prepare for the arrival of the Pixel 7, there’s need to address the issue with exclusive software features that Google elects to keep close to its chest.

I was grateful when news broke that car crash detection was set to break free from the Pixel’s chains. After all, safety features should never be exclusive. And neither should they require a subscription.

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iPhone 14’s Emergency SOS

It’s not often that you come across such news, so I obviously got pumped up and it got me thinking what other Pixel-exclusive feature Google should expand beyond its walls. Now Playing quickly came to my mind.

For the uninitiated, the Pixel 2 debuted a feature known as Now Playing. If you’ve heard or used apps like Shazam and SoundHound, then you already know the basics of how Now Playing works.

It uses the Pixel’s mic to capture audio samples and create an acoustic fingerprint that it uses to match against a centralized database. If there’s a match, the music title, album, artist and other details appear on the screen.

The best parts of Now Playing are that it’s handsfree, works even when the phone is locked, and that the entire process happens on-device without internet. Privacy freaks will be happy to know that data isn’t sent to Google.

Google-Pixel-Now-Playing-exclusive-feature

Even though Now Playing is an exclusive Google Pixel feature, non-Pixel users like myself have been thirsting for it for ages. Unfortunately, unlike other Google apps, Now Playing is not available to install on all Android devices.

But Android is always full of possibilities. Granted, those interested in the tool can still get it, but with the help of a mod known as Ambient Music.

There’s a whole process of how to get going with the mod detailed here, but no one deserves the pain of going through all that just to get the feature working on their non-Pixel phone.

Shizuku-Now-Playing-Ambient-Music-mod

Even so, the fact that a developer went to the extent of actually mimicking the Now Playing experience on any non-Pixel device says a lot about how badly some people want the Now Playing experience to break the Pixel barriers.

Sure, Now Playing is one of those features that make the Pixel stand out in the crowded Android market.

But given Google is the custodian of Android OS, having such a feature available to every Android vendor in AOSP could be an added advantage to the bigger competition against Apple.

In fact, given the numbers the Pixel has posted since inception, Google should consider expanding Pixel-exclusive features to other Android devices.

As a smartphone maker, Google isn’t in direct competition with Samsung or Apple. But as the owner of Android, Google is in direct competition with Apple. The fight should be taken to Apple, not to its Android partners.

Samsung-vs-Apple
(Source)

Holding onto such cool features in the disguise of exclusivity will only serve to slow down Android in what looks like a more intensified battle with iOS following the recent iOS 16 rollout.

Google has in the past claimed that Now Playing requires specific hardware and software integration in order to work, but the fact that the feature has been modified to work on non-Pixels suggests otherwise.

I don’t write code, but I believe Google can pull a few strings and expand the functionality beyond the Pixel realm. If an independent dev can bring Now Playing to non-Pixels via a mod, Google can do it officially.

Of all Android smartphone vendors, only Samsung stands a better chance of putting up a proper fight against Apple. Not Google, and the sales figures tell the story better.

Samsung-Galaxy-S22-Ultra

By unlocking Pixel-exclusive features, Google will be making Android great again. As it is, Google can easily be mistaken to be fighting Android from within rather than promoting unity against a common competitor.

And considering its insignificant market share, Google has no incentive locking down software features to its Pixel phones when they can be made available to every Android vendor as part of AOSP. This needs to change for the better.

Do let us know your thoughts in the comments section. As for the poll below, the article will be updated with the results after a week.

Update (September 26, 2022)

By holding onto Pixel-exclusive features, over 66.7% of readers believe Google is also holding back Android as a whole. The remaining 33.3% believe having Pixel-exclusive features is actually helping Android.

Featured image: Google

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Hillary Keverenge

Review Editor. Besides phones, I also enjoy the farm, music, football, and, of course, food.