Well that was unexpected.

Pixel 4 leaks, Google decided to make a social media hype campaign by literally tweeting out an image of its upcoming Pixel 4. It's a savvy recognition of how to run a phone launches actually work and to even take advantage of that dynamic. It was so, I believe, a statement: The Pixel 4 is going to be unapologetically high end.

That's just my prediction, but if Google is smart it will prove me right. With the release of the mid-range Pixel 3A smartphone this year, Google has created some space for itself and a hardware perspective. It's a priority to make a real business out of selling hardware, it should be a priority.

Let's back up and unpack all that, because the dynamics around Google's Pixel line of phones are complicated and unique – and perhaps the tweet that kicked off.

If you're not caught up – and who could blame you for all of this, the last day – here is the story. Act one of the usual script for phone leaks kicked off with renderings of a possible phone and then a metal slug for case makers. So we saw a rumor of a unique feature – gestural control via a radar sensor.

We know the rest of the script goes. Act two is yet more leaks of possible features. Act three are part leaks and glimpses of actual cases designed for the new phone. Act four is real photos of the new phone and (if you're Google). Act five, the conclusion, is the official announcement. It's always a tiny letdown, because we already know everything before an executive confidently strides on a stage somewhere to tell you how their latest device is.

Google knows this script too. Everybody does. So really, what does the company have to loose by flipping it? We all know Google is going to release a new pixel phone some time later this year. Rick Osterloh can say peep about it. Why distress just tweet out a photo the phone is coming and – critically – actually driving the hype cycle instead of getting ground down by it?

Well, I will tell you why not: because it raises expectations. It would a bar that's better than it would otherwise if you just stayed silent. We are able to look at the big square camera bump and see that there are two camera lenses, a microphone hole, an LED flash, and what looks like a spectral sensor. Google wants to be able to do with those parts. Asking what or maybe it could be good enough to justify that honking cube sticking out of the back of the phone. Picking apart every detail, acting like it's basically been announced.

Google must really be worried about hurting Pixel 3 sales now – probably because they're really uninspiring. The traditional reason companies do not pre-announce products because of the Osborne effect, where people do not buy your current thing because they're waiting for the new thing. Pixel 3 phones at T-Mobile and Sprint stores.

By posting the image, it's not so easy to speculate about it, it's doing so with a real image. It wants to get credit anyway. Most importantly, though, I see this as Google throwing down a gauntlet: speculate away, we've got this. It's a sign of not just confidence, but chutzpah.

Apple is rumored to be making a phone. Apple, even though – assuming Google sticks to the script – the next iPhone wants to come out in September while the Google phone will not arrive until October.

But that little piece of cleverness does not change the fundamental thing. And in doing so, I believe the company needs to rise to the occasion. The Galaxy S10, iPhone XS, Huawei P30 Pro (RIP), or even the OnePlus 7 Pro.

I say that's not only because it's a powerful and real business need for it. The Pixel, Pixel 2, and Pixel 3 were all fine phones – and some of the best Android phones for most people. But they have never been the most impressive phones from a hardware perspective.


The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

The Pixel 1 felt barely distinguishable from a Nexus phone. The Pixel 2 had those screen issues. The Pixel 3 seems to have persistent and persistent RAM management issues (and a positive doofy notch on the XL model). All three, though, were not daring from a design or materials perspective.

The Pixel 4 might be – but we have only one image to go off of. It jettisons the mat + glossy finish. It drops the rear fingerprint sensor. It's different from before – and again, all signs point to it. If your phone looks exactly like the next iPhone, it has better and better than the next iPhone.

Google's Pixel line is now bifurcated into two price tiers. 3. The Competing Android phones are faster, have better cameras, nicer screens, and yet still cost less. If Google wants to justify prices over $ 800 or $ 1,000 this year, it will need to make compelling hardware to justify that cost.


The budget-minded Pixel 3A.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The Pixel has a timing problem. It comes out in October, which is off the cycle for Qualcomm releases its newest and best mobile processors. Android phones with much better chips and often fresher designs. Design is not the only thing that matters or drives sales, but it does not help. Google just knows how to do this with the pixel 3, which it did not sell as well as the expected as well as the pixel 2. Making it expensive as it is.

The Pixel 4 is going to be the second pixel phone that Google is producing with its "Taiwan team," aka all the HTC engineers acqui-hired it in January 2018. The first was the Pixel 3A, but that's midrange phone. Now that all HTC engineers are fully integrated into Google, the first flagship phone they produce needs to be great.

Last but not least: Google finally started distributing pixel phones across all US carriers this year (AT & T excluded, but I just change this case), but just recently with the Pixel 3A. That means the Pixel 4 is ready to launch the flagship phone. It's launching across all carriers in the US, and making it uninspiring. As shown by the Pixel 3's sales performance, or how much weight a carrier puts it on the market.

More than anything else, Google needs to quit quietly suggesting that it's still at this hardware thing and really ramping up. After four years, it's time to start selling in volume, making it that iPhone with the iPhone on every metric , and stop everybody from wondering if selling hardware is just a business side, just a hobby.

This year, it's big or go home time for the pixel.