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Pixel 3 vs. iPhone XS: What Apple should steal from Google

Google has just announced the brand new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. It comes on the heels of what may well be the biggest and most unprecedented leaks in industry history, with devices not only showing up in blurry cam pics and sketchy videos but actually being sold underground and given the full-on hands-on treatment in the days and weeks leading up to the event.

Worse, especially for hard-core Google users — the ones most predisposed to lust after and covet the new pixel, the announcement comes just one day after Google finally admitted to a Cambridge Analytica style data exposure all its own, and one that it had failed to disclose for months.

Yeah, #$%&ing ouch.

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I'm not worried about Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, though. It's never been positioned or sold as a mass-market brand like Galaxy or iPhone, and the people who love Google and the Pixel love Google and the Pixel in a way that makes Apple's old Steve Jobs reality distortion field seem kinda tame and tepid by comparison.

Read the full Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL hands-on at Android Central

And when you take the drama out of it, Google does field some amazing technology in Pixel, including some I'd love Apple to strongly consider for iPhones next.

Now, it's important to say up front that this is very much an S year, in iPhone parlance, for the Pixel. Google isn't making any radical redesigns or changes. It's' fixing some things that badly need fixing, like the tragedy that was the Pixel 2 XL display, and making a lot of already good things great.

Which, as someone who buys the new Google phone almost every year, going back to the Nexus One and continuing through both the original Pixel and the 2 XL, I'm totally cool with.

1. That camera

This one is obvious, right? Maybe not. Google has always had one of the best cameras in the business — many would argue the best — despite not having the best camera hardware. It's never been bad hardware, big sensors, good lenses, and all that. But the original lacked OIS, the 2 lacked dual cameras, and the 3 hasn't done much to address anything on the optics side. Because, for Google, it's always been about those AI bits, both in the software and the silicon of the Pixel Visual Core.

Apple's going with a single camera on the back of the upcoming iPhone XR, so once I get a chance to shoot with both of them, it's going to be really interesting to see what the respective computational photography teams have been able to deliver.

And that might be trickier to judge than you think, given what the astonishingly talented Jonathan Morrison pointed out earlier this week — trolling pretty much the entire Pixel Selfie community with iPhone XS selfies.

Make sure you check that video out. It's perspective shattering.

Ok, so, what looks interesting on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL side is Night Mode where, like HDR, it takes a ton of pictures but instead of trying to get the maximum dynamic range, it tries to pull out the best, most detailed picture possible from the darkness.

It also uses optical image stabilization — OIS shake — to collect more data and produce better quality images when digitally zoomed in. iPhone can already do optical zoom up to 2x, but anything that could improve greater than 2x is a huge win.

The crazy part here, of course, is that Google could ship all this for iPhone or Galaxy phones or any phone tomorrow if they wanted to. Because so much of what's being done is with software, Google could ship a new Camera app for iOS and Android that exposes almost all of the Pixel tech for almost any user.

That Google isn't doing that is super interesting, especially since it would give them a much bigger and more compelling data harvesting hose to stick in front of Google Photos.

Tragically or heroically, I can't tell which yet, while Google has been steadfast in not adding a second camera to the back, it's added one to the front this year. Not a TrueDepth system like Apple, but a wide angle so you can turn more easily your selfies into groupies.

I love wide angle lenses and, front and/or back, even if it takes a second or third camera, I'd love to see that come to iPhone.

2. Those speakers

If you'd asked me a month ago if I'd want a bottom front-facing speaker on the new iPhone, I maybe would have thought about it. After hearing the new, wider stereo on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, it's clear the current positions are more than fine.

It's so good, it kinda makes you wonder if Google made the chin to hold the speaker, or stuck the speaker there to cover up for still needing a chin.

It's clear the only thing that stands between us and a truly bezel-less future is cost and engineering talent. And that damn notch.

So, yeah, scratch this one from the list.

3. Fast Charging

Last year it was easy to dunk on both Apple and Google. Apple didn't include a fast charger in the iPhone box and Google didn't include headphones in the Pixel box. This year, Google does indeed include the headphones and Apple… still crickets on the fast charger.

Where Apple's stuck at 5 watts, Google has 18 watts in the box. And, while, yeah, it's tough to dissect individual parts pricing out of overall package value, and Google did bump up Pixel by $150 to $799 and $899, Apple starts iPhone XS at $999 and $1099, and going to 12 watts will cost you $19 and 30 watts, $49, plus a $35 Lightning to USB-C cable.

Speaking of USB-C, it's still thicker than Lightning, and we're still heading towards a wireless world. But, if we're not getting there soon — and quickly transferring future video formats like 4K HDR 60fps, never mind 8K — might still make more sense over wires — USB-C in the box, on one or both ends, starts to make the kind of sense that does. Especially if Apple, as rumor has it, is switching iPad Pro over this year.

One cable to rule them all… until Wi-Fi 7 or whatever rules it all out.

There's this other aspect of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL that sounds interesting: The back glass is etched with a fine texture that makes it feel — and grip — more like metal. At least that's what my colleagues at Android Central who've had a chance to go hands-on with it have said.

iPhone 8 and, to a similar extent, iPhone X and iPhone XS aren't like Nexus 4 slippery. We used to put those at the center of conference tables at CES and time how long it would take them to slide off an almost perfectly level surface and hit the floor. But they're closer to that than any aluminum-backed iPhone in recent memory.

If Apple could figure out a way to increase the frictional coefficient of the back iPhone glass, I'd be super happy. And so would everything from the armrests on my sofa to the wood on my floors.

And… More?

And that's about it this year. S is going to S, right?

Both the Pixels and the iPhones XS have 4 GB of RAM, so its what they manage to do with it that'll count. Pixel goes up to 128 GB of storage and iPhone XS, 256 or 512 GB but Google often offers more data harvesting subsidized cloud storage, so digital pack rats can maybe offload some via upload… if you still trust Google's servers that is.

And that's honestly becoming a bigger and more important story than the phones, where both companies are again converging and we're moving from a race of atoms and bits to one of computer vision and machine learning.

And you know what, that's inspiring.

So, that's the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL. Not new, not revolutionary, but with a few features I'd love to see Apple consider for the next generation iPhones.

We'll have lots more coverage of both new Pixel phones over on Android Central, links below, and you know Mr. Mobile is going to be weighing in, so check out his channel as well.

So, hit like, hit subscribe, and then hit up the comments and let me know what you think. And thank you so much for watching!

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Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Great to see an article on iMore that acknowledges some merits and strengths of Android (even though Ritchie still found time to known Pixels). Android and iOS don't need to be competitors. They, in my opinion, attempt to general several two different demographics of smartphone users, with some occasional overlap.
  • It annoys me when people say Android is for power users and iOS is for the less tech-savvy, this is really not true, and the new Shortcuts app on iOS can really be taken advantage of by power users, as well as various other things in the OS and via apps on the App Store. I'm a software developer, very much a computer-geek, but I prefer iOS over Android. That's not to say that there aren't things that I miss from Android, but overall I prefer iOS.
  • I am also a software developer. I definitely feel that Android overall has more power users features, thus making it more appealing to power users IMHO.
    A quick example that should appeal to the developer in you, are developer options, those are incredibly useful features, primarily for developers but power users would benefit from. For example, adjusting animation delay, and viewing running services. A more real-world example of a power user feature on Android is deep app integration, that allows for third-party apps like Tasker, and Automate to exist. To the best my knowledge, there isn't any sort of similar functionality in iOS, but please do correct me if I am wrong. it's okay that iOS doesn't have these capabilities because most users don't even use these features in Android, so there is no real harm in them not being present in iOS. I admit that iOS has gotten some power user features in recent years, but I don't think it would be incorrect to say iOS is targetted for the non-tech-savvy consumers, and Android is targeted towards power users. I also can see why tech-savvy engineers such as yourself would use an iOS, even though I personally do not. They work, and they work well; the same cannot be said of many Android devices in the past.
  • Tasker and Automate from what I can see, are similar what the new Shortcuts app in iOS 12 now does, although Shortcuts is very new whilst those apps have been available for a long time for Android, they might also have more functionality but I haven't compared. I think Android definitely appeals more to power-users in general, but at the same time I don't think the iPhone should be only associated with non-tech savvy people, even though it's great for them too. It's what generates a lot of the iPhone-hate, because people think these devices are designed for idiots, when really they're very capable devices
  • What you "think" is irrelevant. I its a fact that Android development due to it being an open OS is leaps and bounds ahead of IOS and the customization abilities is not even comparable. Just head over to Xda forums and see what sophisticated tweaks can be done to Android phones that you or your parents can't even comprehend. Lets just say grandpa ain't using a rooted S9+ with a third party launcher....he's using an iphone with its big azz icons on the uncustomizable main page that even his declining eye sight can see
  • Lol! /lol /lol
  • Your first comment in 2 years, I feel like you had enough time to prepare something a little more valuable to the conversation
  • How is it "leaps and bounds ahead of iOS" aside from customisation? Or in other words, given that I don't care too much about customisation, how would Android benefit me over iOS?
  • What benefits you personally is irrelevant. I'm stating a fact that Android's platform offers a lot more development opportunities (as it is an open source platform) than Apple and the powerhouse Xda forums is an obvious proof of that. For a "software developer" you say really dense stuff sometimes.
  • Android's customisability benefits people who want customisability. Outside of customisability, both are great OSes, neither one is "leaps and bounds" ahead of the other. Neither Windows or macOS are open-source, but that doesn't really limit development opportunities to the scale you think it does.
  • Again, Who it benefits is irrelevant to the point. Fact remains that Android has a lot more active development on it. Show me a remotely equivalent development site to Xda that IOS development has
  • There isn't one single development site, but there are tons of people and big companies developing apps for iOS, and Apple has extensive documentation and tools to facilitate this. Maybe Android has more development, but the difference is negligible to the end-user
  • You just don't get it, DannyJJK. Go to XDA Developers and take a look before making your next comment.
  • I've been to XDA Developers, I went there to get custom roms when I was on Android. So I do "get it", or if you think I don't, then explain.
  • Sometimes you just need to stop with your unintelligent nonesense. No on in the world except Rene and his prostate gland (you) believes that iOS platform is as tweakable as android, or has as much 3rd party regular coders working its development Whenever you’re in doubt which plateform is preferred by less tech savvy people, just look at which phone grandpa is holding. Sure as **** isn’t a custom ROM rooted note 9. Its an iPhone.
  • This has gone completely off-topic. Let's get back to the original question: How is Android "leaps and bounds ahead of iOS" aside from customisation? I never said iOS was more customisable or hackable.
  • As a typical iOS and android nougat user, if you ask me, the standout feature of pixel 3 among the other phones (android and iphone) is call screening. Potentially soon duplex. Otherwise the camera is trying to match Huawei long exposure and computational zoom which Huawei might still be better. Top shot you can get in a burst shot, or live photo, photobooth is available in a google app Selfissimo. Maybe iOS can tweak a new mode night mode to soak in more light just for the colour details and a few other photos for the edge details, idea. Or maybe halide camera or cortex camera might surface that mode. Another feature pixel have is listening in on songs in the background. Good idea even though somewhat creepy. The hardware for the smaller pixel is largely forgettable. And for the price hike to 800 dollar you get a 1080p screen (still slightly more than Xr), bigger than Xr bezels, tough sell made even tougher on android side with one plus at around 500 with more ram and pocofone at 300 even. Then complicate it further when Huawei mate 20 will launch soon with a much faster kirin 980 than sd845 fast closing in on apple chips. Makes the pixel3 looks dated right out the gate, hardware side. Would you take a G7 or Xs or S9 running full pixel software? I would. That is how much the hardware have lagged behind others while still creeping up alot in pricing. Maybe trade wars coming. I’m weird and my most anticipated phone review now might be the humble Xr. Battery and camera review please. If it is 90% an Xs, would be very much impressed. As the other commentor said android and iOS are 2 sides of the coin. Not every iOS user is interested in using android and most android users generally hate iOS or iPhone pricing. It’s just not straightforward to compare and migrate between the 2. My main line is still iOS because I don’t want apps getting access to my sms by stupid me pressing the allow button by accident and forgetting it. Or google mucking about my location. Even though I turn off gps on my android phone I’m not sure it’s fully off. Btw I’m using a 1440p samoled screen and most times I don’t see the difference between that and 750p.
  • In some cases I would've liked to allow apps to have SMS access, however I think the Shortcuts app might cover those needs now. I went to the iPhone from Android due to instability issues, I think a large amount of them have gone now, however I have still seen some bizarre issues on Android but they could be to do with the manufacturers modifications. Either way, I'm happy to have a phone that "just works" if you excuse the cheesy Apple saying, I've not found that the limitations on the iPhone have made me want to go back, plus with the recent Shortcuts app I can now do so much more. A big thing with the iPhone for me is the frequent software updates, and knowing that my phone will be supported for a long time as well.
  • Out of curiosity, what Android phone did you have before switching over to iOS? Because from what you've mentioned "frequent software updates", that issue is being less and less of an issue. Google Pixel phones get new android releases day one. Samsung Galaxy S9 is beginning to get Android Pie, not day one but compare this to the new Galaxy S devices of 2016 and before and the state was much worse. Essential phone got the Android Pie update day one. My intention is not to convert you back to Android but I do wanna inform you in case you aren't aware of the current Android update landscape.
  • It was a long time ago I had an Android phone, so my knowledge is somewhat out of date, and it's great to see that updates are more frequent now. In fact, many of the problems I might have had with Android have probably been fixed or greatly improved now. I have considered going back to Android with some of the great options available, but I'd wait and see for something that would really entice me to switch over
  • Shortcuts app and custom command is awesome, need to learn it though, right now I can only get it to download youtube videos, make a screenshot of my location then send it to friends, do some routines stuff, turn on bluetooth turn up volume then open google maps and get a playlist going. Don't worry android will always be there and as long as you backed up to an SD card you can always get back, many 👍🏼 phones too, I use an S6 - android Nougat now , last used S7 android on Oreo and get to play with S9 also on Oreo too. My iPhones and iPads are even older and they are mostly on iOS 12, only my iPad2 is on iOS 9.4, a time when they last had grouped notifications before iOS 12. Oh yes another thing Apple should totally have is always on display, I forgot, I love Samsung AOD clock. notifications not necessary, music player, iOS lockscreen player is fine. Maybe when they get around to MicroLED they will have AOD?
  • Great camera features. Turn your sefiies into groupies Is the only thing I remembered. I would love to do this. Then I woke up. 😅
  • Haha, the Pixel 3 has a notch!
    Ok, that apart, this looks like a good phone. Let's keep in mind this is a niche product though, giving it as an example of an Android phone is not painting the real picture. Yes it is possible to get the real full Android experience with updates, etc. but this is not what most Android users get. Question: does the Pixel 3 (I know, it's the Android OS that does that) cut on the data harvesting compared to the previous generations?
  • This is something I assume their new "titan" processor is supposed to do. I've yet to do additional research on what tasks/data it's supposed to manage, but first glance, it's supposed to provide similar on device security to apple's secure enclave. Then again,.. this is google. My assumption is it will have limited functionality. We'll see. This coming from a person who pre-ordered the pixel 3 (non fugly notch ) version.
  • Cross platform ethos is what they really should steal. Switched to Android and thinking of getting rid of my iMac because it feels utterly worthless if you don't have other Apple devices. Don't think I've used it at all since switching smartphones, and realized that I basically only used it for texting at my desk. Since getting a new Gaming Laptop (that I use also for graphics design and video editing), I haven't really used it for anything else. Maybe I'll turn it into an Android App development machine, or something.
  • The iMac is computer, designed for doing computer tasks. It integrates well with iOS, but that would never be my sole reason for buying one. I use a Mac at work because of the workflow of the Mac, and I use many Mac-exclusive apps which I really need for my work, the integration with iOS is just a nice extra