June 23, 2024

The Pixel 6a marks Google’s return to India, but will it succeed?

The Pixel 4a came a few months late to India, but that didn’t keep it from becoming an instant hit— something you don’t often get to say about Google phones—by striking the value sweet spot. But that was two years ago, and the South Asian country hasn’t seen a Google phone since. After a two-year hiatus, the wait is about to end: the budget Pixel 6a will make its way to India in the coming months. There couldn’t be a better time for the budget Pixel phone to re-enter the Indian market, but its success hinges upon one key factor.

However, the Pixel 6a isn’t coming to India anytime soon. A tweet from Google India following the main Google I/O keynote vaguely mentions “later this year” as the launch timeline. The situation isn’t much different in other dozen markets either, including the US, where the handset in July. But that’s still an improvement over the Pixel 5a, which was never made available outside Japan and the US due to the supply chain constraints during the pandemic.


The delay may actually be a good thing (for Google)

Back in 2020, the Pixel 4a’s India debut was also a few months behind the US. Google timed it to match the mega sales that happened in the weeks leading up to Diwali, but the company struggled to keep up with the high demand. Retailers usually make a large chunk of their annual phone sales during the Diwali season, and it could give Google the kickstart that it so desperately needs in the Indian market.

Assuming Google has similar plans this time around, the Pixel 6a could launch sometime around early October. But that’s nothing more than a presumption, and considering how volatile the supply chains have been lately, it would take a lot of things to go right for the Pixel phone to make it in time. Interestingly, a tipster recently tweeted that the Indian release could coincide with the US, i.e. by July end.

Source: Google

But this months-long delay also brings some downsides. The enthusiasm among prospective buyers is bound to die down over time. And given how fast-paced the local smartphone industry is, there are going to be a ton of options to choose from in a few months’ time. One cannot discount the ability of the Chinese smartphone makers to be on their toes to quickly adapt and respond to any change in the market, which is the Pixel 6a this time.

The Pixel advantage

No matter how quickly competitors respond to Google’s mid-range oferring, there are certain things that a Pixel would do better any day. Mid-range phones take good photos in daylight but tend to struggle in low light. But Pixels, even the a-series, shine in all scenarios. And the 6a even gets all the AI-enabled camera tricks of its pricier siblings, which position the phone uniquely in its own right.

Source: Google

The Pixel’s clean software experience also stands out compared with its competitors heavily loaded skins. Motorola is the only other brand to offer a similarly uncluttered OS, but its update commitment lags Google’s day-one updates. The benchmark that Pixel phones have set could probably even push other brands like OnePlus and Xiaomi to step up their game to offer better and continued software support.

If any Pixel stands a chance of making it big in India, it’s the Pixel 6a.

But that’s not even the best part. With Google’s custom Tensor chip making its way to the budget segment, the new Pixel 6a is on par with the Pixel 6 Pro and other flagships in terms of performance. That pits it against the iPhone SE—minus the dated design.

It will take a lot to beat brands like Xiaomi and Realme that have a strong foothold in the Indian market. But taking into account everything that the new budget Google phone brings to the table, if any Pixel stands a chance of making it big in India, it’s the Pixel 6a.

When the price matters—a lot

Those who follow the Indian smartphone market know that price segments here work a little differently here. A phone that costs more than ₹40,000 (~$520) is considered premium, and the Pixel 6a’s price with taxes comes quite close to this mark. So, it becomes crucial for Google to stay under that figure to make the Pixel 6a worthwhile for buyers.

Lucky for Google, the ₹30-40,000 price bracket is booming in the country, even though most sales happen in the lower segments. Increased consumer interest has led to all major companies offering tens of good options. But most of these phones lack the superior overall experience that buyers in this segment desire—an experience the Google Pixel 6a offers.

It isn’t all rosy for Google, though, as Apple has been eyeing the same price bracket. Armed with its local manufacturing chops (resulting in lower taxes), the heavily discounted iPhone 12 and 11 series were among the best sellers during last year’s Diwali rush. While it may still be relatively easy for Google to pull buyers away from other Android phone brands, competing with Apple may prove to be an uphill task, especially when iPhones have an aspirational value.

The Pixel 6a’s success will depend entirely on one factor alone — price.

India has never been a priority market for Google hardware. No Pixel flagship has launched in the country since the Pixel 3, the new Chromecast hasn’t yet made it here, and Amazon Echo speakers routinely outsell Google’s Home speakers.

Despite all these odds and constrained local availability across categories, Google still managed to create a buzz around the Pixel 6 in India— a phone that wasn’t officially offered in the country. Some diehard Pixel fans here have been buying imported units from local dealers without any warranty coverage just to have a phone that isn’t made by one of the mainstream brands. Even Amazon.in has the phone listed through a third-party seller, and the price isn’t too off its MSRP in the US.

The sales figures for these imported units are obviously not high, but the fact that this is even happening is a telltale sign that Indians do have an appetite for Pixel phones. Last year’s Pixel 6 series has created a positive perception among the buyers in India, and the appeal has even trickled outside the small enthusiast group. Whether or not Google is able to cash in on that will depend entirely on one factor alone—price. If Google manages to get it right, the Pixel 6a could be a smash hit, but if not, it’s Google who would be the one losing, not the buyers.

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