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Pixel Pass could beat Apple One, but doesn’t play to Google’s strengths

The Pixel 6 may last for five years, but Pixel Pass proves Google would rather you move on.

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Google will officially unveil the Pixel 6 in just a couple of days. At this point, just about everything that can be leaked about the phone has been leaked, with enough info remaining consistent across the rumors that there should few surprises in store on Tuesday. But one recent leak about an upcoming “Pixel Pass” subscription had the Android Central Slack buzzing.

Assuming it’s real — and the marketing materials found by Brandon Lee of This is Tech Today look authentic — Pixel Pass will be like an Apple One subscription, a Samsung Access subscription, and a carrier plan all rolled into one. It will give you a “Pixel phone with the promise of regular upgrades,” plus access to a Google Fi network plan, YouTube Premium, Google One cloud storage, Play Pass games and apps, and an extended phone warranty.

Pixel Pass: This appears to be a blend of the iPhone upgrade plan where you can get a new phone every year and the Apple One Subscription.Contains YouTube Premium, Google One, Play Pass, extended warranty, and is associated with Google Fi.#pixel6 #teampixel pic.twitter.com/iU7VTc16vS

— M. Brandon Lee | THIS IS TECH TODAY (@thisistechtoday) October 10, 2021

The Pixel Pass tagline might as well be, “Google heard you liked Google, so it added some extra Google to your Google phone on your Google network.” The marketing materials specifically say you “must purchase a Pixel device,” which could include the Pixel 5a alongside the new 6 or 6 Pro. This isn’t a standalone subscription that any Android phone owner could access; it’s for rewarding Pixel superfans or enticing Google power users that pay for these services separately to consolidate them on a Pixel.

Agree to upgrade to a new Pixel every two years, and you’ll get Google’s most popular services at a discount.

You’d buy a Pixel Pass through the Fi Store if you want Google’s data plan or through the Google Store to connect your new Pixel to your own U.S carrier (yes, this Pass looks to be U.S.-only). We don’t have prices yet, but we’ve already seen a Pixel 5a with Google Fi deal that costs less over two years than the typical $449 phone price. It’s very possible Pixel Pass will bundle all these services as complementary or severely discounted to lure you into buying the Pixel 6 directly from Google.

Since the Pixel 6 price leak suggested the phones would cost about $750 and $1,050, then a monthly price for two years would come out to about $31/month and $44/month, respectively. The Google Store Pass without Fi might have a similar cost, while the data plan with protection and subs would cost more. We should see in a couple of days how much more.

Taking a worm from Apple’s book

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As an iPhone-to-Android convert, I’ve been intrigued by the Pixel 6 as a phone that could give the iPhone 13 a run for its money. This won’t be in sales, as Pixels are far too niche and sold in too few countries, but in performance, camera quality, and colorful designs. The Pixel 6 could help the brand to break into the mainstream as a flashy Apple alternative.

You might think the Apple vs. Google comparison is unfair or clickbaity, but Google itself seems to be playing into the comparison with Pixel Pass. It has a lot of similarities to Apple One, which gives you Apple Music, Arcade, TV+, News, Fitness, and iCloud Storage for a monthly fee. Google has its own News app, YouTube Premium hits both Music and TV+, Play Pass matches up with Arcade, and Google One equates to iCloud. The only thing missing is a Fitbit Premium membership.

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The most important difference is that Apple One isn’t tied to a phone payment, though you need an Apple device to make One worth it. The Individual Apple pass at $15 per month will cost less but obviously doesn’t give you a phone. Apple does have an iPhone Upgrade Program for $36 per month, but there’s no true combo of these two services.

If Pixel Pass costs similar to the iPhone Upgrade Program with all the perks Apple charges extra for with One, that’ll look great for Google. It proves that Google plans to release proper flagships for the long term, with a Pixel 8 upgrade to look forward to.

On the other hand, owners of other Android phones who don’t want to switch but do want to pay for a Google bundle will be left in the lurch. Like Apple, Google may be hoping that tying its services together will make people commit to its hardware long-term, but it leaves out a lot of people who don’t want another phone plan.

Die-hard Google Phone fans will choose Pixel Pass, but cheaper Google subscriptions won’t be enough to make most people switch OEMs or carriers.

Will its Pixel Pass gambit work? Pixel fans will take advantage, sure, but other people won’t switch phones just to get access to Pixel Pass. That’s far too much effort for probably not enough savings. Outside of Fi, the Google service offerings don’t seem that alluring unless you need cloud storage or hate ads. There’s no Ted Lasso equivalent on YouTube Premium anymore, and comparing Play Pass vs. Apple Arcade, the latter has fewer games but more big-name exclusives to grab you. Play Pass is more about quantity and may not have most of the best Android games, though it tries to offset that by removing ads in many other apps, including the best weather app AccuWeather.

The most similar Pixel Pass rival is Samsung Access, which gives you a new Samsung phone every year, Care+ protection, 1TB of OneDrive storage, and the Microsoft Office suite within Office 365. But as far as I can tell, it hasn’t updated its phone offerings since it launched in 2020, so you’d still have to buy a Note 20 instead of an S21. Plus, there’s no dynamite Samsung or Galaxy Store service everyone wants on offer, nor a cheap data plan.

Most carriers will let you pay for an annual or biannual upgrade, which gives you more flexibility to buy from different OEMs every time. On the other hand, supply chain issues have made finding the right phone at carrier locations hard. Subbing directly to an OEM like Google could be the fastest way to get a cutting-edge phone, even if it limits your options.

Who needs updates when you have Pixel Pass?!

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For the past three months, leakers gave us one reason after another to get hyped about the Pixel 6. The new 50MP camera paired with Google’s AI. The Tensor SoC. The striking, colorful design. Exclusive Material You features. Then there’s the alleged five years of software upgrades, which another more recent leak downgraded to four OS updates and five years of security updates.

Despite Qualcomm’s passive-aggressive 🚩🚩🚩 tweet implying otherwise, Google has achieved something impressive with Tensor, making its phones capable of lasting a half-decade. Much longer than most Snapdragon-backed phones! But the fact is, Google doesn’t want you to use the Pixel 6 for five years. It wants you to subscribe to Pixel Pass and get an auto-upgrade to Pixel 8 in two years, or to buy the Pixel 6 outright and then trade it for the Pixel 7 next year.

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What’s tricky about committing to Pixel Pass is that Google is one of the more experimental phone manufacturers I’ve seen. The differences between each “flagship” phone are so stark, and so much could change in two years. Look at last year’s Pixel 5, with its mid-range specs and lack of Pro or XL model. Or look at the Pixel 4, with a god-awful battery that undercuts its performance.

What if the Pixel 8 looks more like a traditional (read: boring) Pixel with a corner square module? What if Google regresses to budget flagships, or goes running back to Qualcomm due to continued chip shortages? Pixel Pass promises consistency, but that hasn’t been Google’s forte and it ignores one of the Pixel 6’s most talked-about positives: its longevity.

Google shouldn’t go all-in on its Apple impression

Honestly, I think Pixel Pass is a better fit for the Pixel a series, which may get bigger or smaller but generally has consistent specs and designs. You re-up with slightly better performance every couple of years without paying too much extra, while getting some Google Fi in the bargain if you’re fine changing carriers.

I’d also argue that Google should sell cheap Google Fi packages with bundled Google “Passes” to other Android OEMs without tying it solely to phone payments or the Pixel brand. Google could make far more money as a brand-agnostic carrier with cool perks than it’d make selling Pixel hardware, even if the Pixel 6 sells like hotcakes.

Apple made its niche with its walled garden, but Google has open-source software and partnerships with other Android manufacturers. This year, Pixel Pass and exclusive Material You color tools show that Google wants to make its phones more distinctive, standing apart from other Android phones. As an Apple convert, this appeals to me; but I’m genuinely curious (and skeptical) if die-hard Android fans have enough confidence in Pixels to buy in.

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