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Comment: Fewer leaks and far less hype — is that bad news for Google Pixel 4?

Last year’s Pixel 3 brought with it unequivocally one of the wildest phone leak seasons ever, but this year has been different. I don’t want to speak too soon, given that we still have a month or more before its launch, but the Pixel 4 has unarguably leaked less. That means less hype at large, and more noticeably, in the smartphone and gadget media bubble. Is that bad news for Google?

There’s a weird dichotomy happening here. On one hand, the Pixel 4 has leaked as much or more than just about every other phone. Even just looking at our own exclusive reports in tandem with Google’s own confirmations, there are almost no mysteries:

We know just as much or more about the Pixel 4 at this point in its cycle than we typically know about your average smartphone. It’s extremely (leaked) online.

On the other hand, this year’s leak cycle — and thereby, hype cycle — has felt pretty muted compared to last year. Again, I don’t want to speak too soon — over the next four weeks we could easily see Pixel 4s sold on the black market to Ukrainian bloggers and full-on unboxing videos out of Hong Kong.

But so far, the Pixel 4 has drummed up far less leak coverage than last year’s Pixel 3. All you need to read to know this is true is our full roundup of all the Pixel 3 leaks. By the first week of September 2018, the Pixel 3 was fully and completely out. Full hands on photos and videos were published. Even pseudo reviews had appeared on the web by this point. Tech YouTubers, watched by the masses, were covering Pixel 3 leaks incessantly. Why? Because Pixel 3 was incredibly hot.

This year is different, and at least a couple potential reasons come to mind. First, Google has likely tightened the reins some since last year. Many conspiracy theorists thought that Google planted the Pixel 3 leaks in order to drum up a hype-filled leak season (which, if true, would have been a successful campaign, in terms of increasing brand awareness, at least). But common sense and our insiders have said that was not the case.

Second, as mentioned above, Google took a very unusual turn with its response to leaks this year. All the way back in June (June!), Google threw up its hands and said, “Welp, you got us!” The company straight-up posted a full high-resolution render of its 2019 flagship on Twitter, a move met with confusion, and rightly, praise for Google’s savvy engagement with leak culture.

Google Pixel 4

The official Pixel 4 teaser image

It’s impossible to know how much either of those things have affected Pixel 4 excitement, but I think it’s an interesting question. Has Google actually had any success reining in leaks? It wouldn’t be hard to consider this year “reined in” compared to last year. Does Google even care to rein in leaks? Perhaps its transparency was hoped to drive even more Pixel 4 hype, rather than hamper it.

Earlier this year, Dieter Bohn posited this as a potential reason for Google’s coming out with the Pixel 4. Perhaps they wanted to take part in — drive — the hype cycle rather than sit idly by and pretend it wasn’t happening as most smartphone makers do:

Google knows this script too. Everybody does. So really, what does the company have to lose by flipping it? We all know Google is going to release a new Pixel phone sometime later this year. We all know that it’s going to get leaked six ways to Sunday before hardware chief Rick Osterloh can say peep about it. Why not just tweet out a photo acknowledging the phone is coming and — critically — actually drive the hype cycle instead of getting ground down by it?

What I’ve been considering, though, is this: Has Google’s open admission of the reality of smartphone leaks several months before Pixel 4’s launch actually led to fewer leaks? Was the rush that a leaker would normally get from sharing secrets hampered by Google’s upfront openness? And critically, has Google’s approach to the Pixel 4 leak cycle actually dampened the hype?

Clearly, the Pixel 4 is very leaked, so it would be hard to make a convincing argument that Google’s marketing strategy and the lesser leakage are a causal relationship.

But certainly, a big part of what drives eyeballs to Pixel leaks is the remaining mysteries — no matter how small — that slowly trickle out. If Google gives away one of the most sought-after leaks right off the bat — a sexy, high resolution render straight from the company — does that remove some of the natural motive? Last year, the first official press renders didn’t show up until mid- to late September. This year, Google handed that to us at the beginning. How does that affect the in between?

We still have a month to go before we really know how the Pixel 4’s leak cycle has played out, and even then, we won’t have any real answers as to how Google’s approach to leaks has affected the hype — much less the actual sales of the phone. At this point, though, I’m sensing — and feel free to yell at me in the comments if I’m misreading things — that the hype is less than even the first two years of Pixels. And for a phone struggling to sell anyway (save for the Pixel 3a, which has reportedly been a saving grace of sorts for unit sales), less hype seems unlikely to be good news.

Weirdly enough, to me, the actual features of the Pixel 4 feel more exciting than ever. Face ID-like security, a crazy new Soli sensor, and a 90 Hz screen make this the most exciting Pixel in years.

Has Google’s approach to Pixel 4 leaks affected the hype? Is the internet simply moving past the specialness and excitement associated with Google’s first party premium smartphone offering? Is the Pixel 4 itself just not as exciting as years past? Is smartphone hype overall lower than ever? Will less hype mean even rougher premium Pixel sales this year?

Let me know what you think in the comments below and on Twitter.

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Avatar for Stephen Hall Stephen Hall

Stephen is Growth Director at 9to5. If you want to get in touch, follow me on Twitter. Or, email at stephen (at) 9to5mac (dot) com, or an encrypted email at hallstephenj (at) protonmail (dot) com.