When new technology is launched, it usually improves on its predecessor in clearly identifiable ways.
Sony’s PS5 offers 4K gameplay and a better user interface than the PS4. The iPhone 12 is the first Apple smartphone to offer 5G. And so forth.
It’s accepted wisdom that new consumer electronics must be better than their predecessors.
Yet the Google Pixel 5 has deliberately gone against this philosophy.
While there’s no disputing that the latest-generation Pixel is a fine handset, certain specifications are inferior to the older Pixel 4.
So why is this? And could the Pixel 5 represent the start of a new trend in smartphone manufacturing?
When less is more
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that 2020 has been a uniquely difficult year.
Despite the Chancellor’s best efforts, millions of people are facing job insecurity and rising debts. High streets have been decimated, and consumer spending is contracting rapidly.
At a time of global financial insecurity, Google rightly concluded people weren’t going to be keen to lavish four-figure sums on a brand-new smartphone.
And while Apple ignored the economic headwinds and released a £1,500 handset this autumn, the Google Pixel 5 went on sale last month for just £599.
At first glance, you might wonder how they’ve made it so affordable.
The Pixel 5 has three rear cameras and Google’s brilliant Night Sight mode, the latest version of Android, and 5G connectivity.
Indeed, you wouldn’t realise the Pixel 5 was a step down from its immediate predecessor unless you studied the spec sheets.
For one thing, there’s no facial recognition. Google has reverted to a conventional biometric fingerprint sensor on the back.
For another, the 6.0-inch screen is smaller than the 6.3-inch one fitted to the Pixel 4 XL.
There’s no expensive telephoto lens, and the Pixel 4’s gesture control has been dropped.
Even the processor is a step down from the high-end Snapdragon 855 found in previous-generation Google handsets.
When less is more
The inclusion of inferior technology might suggest the Pixel 5 is a poorer handset to its predecessor, yet arguably the opposite is true.
The more efficient Snapdragon 765G processor consumes less power than the 855, which means a charge lasts longer. The 765G chip is also 5G-enabled, where the 855 isn’t.
Only semi-professional photographers will mourn the loss of a telephoto lens. Most people will find Google’s digital zoom technology perfectly serviceable.
And Google’s Motion Sense feature was of marginal interest to most consumers, despite requiring an expensive sensor.
However, the key difference between the Google Pixel 5 and its immediate predecessor is financial.
The 5 is £70 cheaper than the 4 at launch, and a whopping £330 less than the Pixel 4 XL when purchased with a comparable amount of storage.
In an age of impending austerity, that’s a brave move – and one which other smartphone manufacturers may wish to consider for their own next-generation handsets.