Though it didn't get any airtime during the Pixel 6 launch event, one of the most interesting announcements to come out of Google this month is Pixel Pass. It's a bundle that combines Google's most popular services — like YouTube Premium and Google One storage — and the Pixel 6 hardware in one monthly cost.
It's clearly a move inspired by Apple One and the iPhone Upgrade Program as Google tries to engender more loyalty toward the Pixel hardware brand. For Google power users, it represents an opportunity to save a few bucks while grabbing Google's latest phone. As an Apple user, I think Pixel Pass lays down an example to Apple as to how it could offer a similar program for iPhone superfans, though it's not without its problems.
Hardware, software, and services
Pixel Pass is a pretty straightforward offering. You give Google money each month for two years, $45 for the Pixel 6 or $55 for the Pixel 6 Pro, and it gives you the phone plus Youtube Premium, 200GB of Google One storage, Google Play Pass, and Pixel Preferred Care extended warranty and damage coverage. Since Pixel devices get Android updates first, you'll benefit from those during the two years, and you'll get the opportunity to upgrade your phone at the end of the term.
Google says that, at those prices, you'll be saving as much as $294 over the 24 months. While that sounds like a fantastic deal, it's not necessarily fully representative of the savings most people would make. I won't go into the full detail of how it breaks down here. Our pals at Android Central have already done a stellar job explaining why Pixel Pass won't actually save you money — but, for some, it will represent a simplified offering that is tempting.
Though there are a few differences in terms of the services offered, as well as Apple and Google's diametrically opposed business models, the hardware, software, and services play of Pixel Pass is one straight out of Cupertino. That leads to an interesting thought experiment around an Apple version of Pixel Pass — an all-in-one Apple Pass.
Not quite an apples to apples comparison
It's no secret that Apple loves services. It's a consistently-growing part of its business, having just set an all-time revenue record of $18.3 billion in Apple's fourth quarter results, 26% up year-over-year. A theoretical Apple Pass could provide the company with a way to further juice those numbers.
Apple has spent a ton of money on Apple TV+ content, an original Fitness+ service, and exclusive games for Apple Arcade. iCloud continues to expand in functionality with iCloud+ and Apple Music just diversified its offering this fall with a new Voice Plan.
It's not just in the digital space where Apple will let you give it money every month, either. It will happily take your money monthly for the iPhone Upgrade Program, which includes AppleCare+ extended warranty and accidental damage coverage, as well as monthly Apple Card payments on basically anything else.
There are already a lot of similarities between Apple's subscription offerings and Pixel Pass. Google Play Pass and Apple Arcade line up pretty evenly. Google One is to Android what iCloud is to iOS, and YouTube Premium offers the video and music streaming that Apple TV+ and Apple Music provide (though not the same content, of course). Preferred Care is Google's AppleCare+ equivalent, and the iPhone Upgrade Program is Apple's existing mechanism to keep subscribers on the latest model.
Many people already happily subscribe to the iPhone Upgrade Program and Apple One, present company included, in effect rolling our own Apple Pass. However, it's not exactly the same as what Pixel Pass offers.
Pixel Pass is a two-year program where the subscriber owns the phone at the end of the term, whereas the iPhone Upgrade Program offers annual upgrades that require you to trade the phone back in each time. I'd rather have the latest iPhone every year, but not everyone is into the idea of effectively leasing a phone.
Pixel Pass is also limited to the U.S. with Apple already offering its Upgrade Program overseas in regions like the UK and China. Apple One is available in many more countries than that. If it were tied to hardware upgrades, though, it would likely be region-restricted, too.
Another way Apple One benefits from not being bundled with the iPhone Upgrade Program is that Family accounts are supported. Pixel Pass is available for individuals only. Plus, regardless of how you buy your iPhone, you can subscribe to Apple One. You can only get the bundle of Google services in Pixel Pass by buying through the Google Store or Google Fi, leaving other Android users in the lurch.
Google Pixel buyers represent a small portion of Android users. Google's flagship devices are for Android purists and Google power users, which is why Pixel Pass makes so much sense. It appeals to those most likely to already be heavily invested in Google's ecosystem, paying for multiple Google services, and eyeing up a new Pixel device at regular intervals. If the bundle savings work out for your use case, it makes sense to go the Pixel Pass route, but Google hasn't proven itself to be consistent when it comes to desirable handsets.
"What's tricky about committing to Pixel Pass is that Google is one of the more experimental phone manufacturers," writes Michael L Hicks for Android Central, describing how the differences each year between Pixel devices can be stark so there's no guarantee the Pixel 8 is going to be a phone that people actually want. "Pixel Pass promises consistency, but that hasn't been Google's forte."
Apple, on the other hand, produces an iPhone on time every year that people want. It's not always a flashy upgrade, especially in recent years as Apple has doubled-down on important but incremental updates, but you know that upgrading your iPhone is going to result in a better experience each time.
Since Apple is mostly competing with itself for iPhone upgrades, pitting previous-gen models against the best iPhone each year, a new Apple Pass bundle would make for an intriguing prospect that might get a few more folks to upgrade more regularly. That's especially true if the all-in-one bundle included a slight discount on the total cost of the phone and services sold separately.
A seamless, single subscription featuring the best Apple has to offer certainly sounds like the sort of simplicity Apple would want to offer, while simultaneously boosting iPhone upgrade rates and services revenue. Sounds like a win-win to me.
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Adam Oram is a Senior Writer at iMore. He studied Media at Newcastle University and has been writing about technology since 2013. He previously worked as an Apple Genius and as a Deals Editor at Thrifter. His spare time is spent watching football (both kinds), playing Pokémon games, and eating vegan food. Follow him on Twitter at @adamoram.