We don’t know the real sales figures for the Mountain View, California company’s Pixel line of flagship smartphones, but we do occasionally get hints. For one, Google reported “declines in hardware” sales during its Q4 2019 earnings this past February. We went digging into 9to5Google’s own analytics to see if maybe we could glean some insight for ourselves, and found similarly pessimistic numbers…
We’re not going to bury the lede: In the first quarter of 2020, only 22% of 9to5Google readers who used a Pixel to browse the site we’re using the latest flagship, the Pixel 4 or 4 XL. Last year, in the first quarter of 2019, roughly 39.9% of those 9to5Google readers who were using a Pixel to browse the site we’re using the latest flagship Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL.
That means 9to5Google readers have adopted the latest-generation flagship Pixel 4 and 4 XL at roughly half the rate as they did the Pixel 3 and 3 XL.
As you can see, Pixel 3, 3 XL, 3a, and 3a XL overwhelmingly dominate 9to5Google traffic. And while Pixel 3 and 3 XL were still bested by Pixel 2 and 2 XL traffic last year, the margins were far smaller (only a few percentage points).
In the first quarter of 2018, after the holiday sales season that saw the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 debut, 63.2% of those 9to5Google readers who were using a Pixel to browse the site were using the latest flagship (at the time) Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL.
Going farther back in the data likely brings diminishing returns in terms of extrapolating any worthwhile meaning, due to new variables which skew the data. In 2020, we have the existence of the ‘a’ series mid-range Pixels, while the ability of flagship devices to last longer between upgrades is at an all-time high. Those factors, among others, certainly affect these numbers.
That said, 9to5Google’s data does seem to — at least in the most basic sense — support the popular narrative about what has happened with Pixel sales over the last few years: year-over-year growth of the flagship models peaked with the Pixel 2 and declined since. In fact, we have fewer 9to5Google readers in real numbers viewing the site using Pixel 4 in Q1 than there were Pixel 2 in Q1 2018. This is further supported by suggestions in multiple earnings calls that flagship Pixel sales were struggling.
Our data shows we have fewer 9to5Google readers in real terms viewing the site using Pixel 4 in Q1 2020 than there were using Pixel 2 in Q1 2018. That is a big ouch.
— Stephen Hall (@hallstephenj) April 13, 2020
In terms of real numbers, the number of visitors viewing the site with Pixel devices has of course grown with the site: 9to5Google saw almost 700,000 visits from Pixel devices in Q1 2018, up to 1.7 million visits from Pixel devices in Q1 2020. Meanwhile, the percentage of 9to5Google traffic being via Pixel device has slowly declined from 17.6% in 2018 to 16.8% in 2019 and 15.9% in 2020. For comparison, 9to5Google viewership on the iPhone has remained relatively steady at ~12% across the last three years.
A couple more interesting tidbits: If you extrapolate 9to5Google viewership to reflect specific Pixel 3a XL and Pixel 4 (non-XL) sales, they may have relatively struggled. In Q1 2020, 9to5Google readers who chose to use a Pixel 3a went with the smaller model in favor of the XL model at a rate of about double, while those who used a Pixel 4 chose the XL model at about the same rate. Perhaps that’s part of why Google decided to simplify the 4a lineup this year?
All this said, it’s clear that the Pixel 4 did not sell as well as Google might have hoped — and it certainly hasn’t gained much traction amongst the Pixel’s biggest fans: readers of our site. In a trend that carries over from last year, and for reasons made obvious by this data, the Google Store today discounted the Pixel 4 to $499.