December 10, 2019

In a sea of Android smartphones, Google’s Pixel has been trying for four generations to be the consumer-friendly, “easy” option. However, random bugs, limited buying options, and other restraints haven’t helped that cause. Now, though, Google is making a very good move with its new “Pixel Feature Drops” which, unfortunately, are still stifled.

Put simply, Feature Drops are exactly what Pixel customers want and, more importantly, need. Those of us obsessed with the latest products and features don’t love digging through new updates to find simple features that Google, frankly, never otherwise mentions.

Even better, putting a list of new features in a central location is crucial for showing them to the vast majority of users. I’d bet that a good portion of people who bought a Pixel 2 a couple of years ago just because they heard it had the best camera still don’t know about a lot of the features on their device. By literally sending a notification to these users saying “your phone just got better” and then detailing what’s new – Google is doing this with the Pixel Tips app – is smart.

Feature Drops make life on a Pixel just a little bit more exciting. As our own Stephen Hall commented, this almost feels like a potential selling point for Pixel that Google has been keeping in their back pocket. Instead of features randomly appearing, they can arrive on a somewhat regular basis with notifications to ensure they don’t go unnoticed.

According to a Google exec speaking to The Verge, the plan is for these drops to occur quarterly which helps other development teams at Google better coordinate their releases.

However, I can’t help but feel like all of this is heavily overshadowed by something. Everything Google announced yesterday in the first Feature Drop for Pixels isn’t available yet for all users and we don’t know when it will be. Some of the changes will be released in an OTA update, others with an app update, and others with a server-side update. Portrait Blur and Google Duo’s background blur are already available for some, but not all.

When you’re not really telling people about something new and just letting it happen, slowly rolling out an update is usually fine. But when users get a notification explaining what’s new and how to use it, but then they go to try that out and can’t, you’re just begging for user complaints and frustration.

Google, apparently, is aware of this. The company isn’t moving away from these staggered rollouts anytime soon as it believes that releasing to a few to potentially catch any big bugs before rolling out to everyone is the better solution. In that same interview with The Verge, Google VP Sabrina Ellis mentioned that they are “working toward” having everything available when you get that notification.

I agree with Google that staggered rollouts are better in the long run, but I sincerely hope we get to the point where things are available more immediately. If we do, Pixel’s Feature Drops could end up being a source of excitement for the entire Pixel community instead of another exciting announcement that just makes us wait.

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