As we get further from the release of the Pixel 6, we’re learning more about the Pixel 7. So far, what we’ve heard about the Pixel 7 makes it seem like it might be a relatively minor upgrade, but that’s not a bad thing. Here’s why.

What do we know about Pixel 7 so far?

First things first, let’s recap what we know so far about the Pixel 7. As we first reported back in October of last year, Google is working on a second-generation Tensor chipset, something that we all expected to see. Earlier this year, we were also able to directly tie this new chip, GS201, to the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. Alongside that, our talented team in Kyle Bradshaw and Dylan Roussel pinned down “Cheetah” and “Panther” as the codenames for Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, and found that these devices will come with an updated cellular modem with the new chipset.

Renders of the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, per the well-known @OnLeaks, also help paint a picture of what to expect from Google’s new phones. The designs are largely unaltered, as seen below, with the most notable change being a tweak to the look of the camera module. The Pixel 7 also appears to be a slightly smaller phone compared to what came before, while the Pro model is roughly the same size.

Just this week, too, a claim has been spread around that Google will keep roughly the same camera hardware on the Pixel 7 series, despite the tweaked visual design. According to that claim, the only meaningful changes will come from optimization and software changes. While the design leaks we’ve seen to date leave open the possibility of different hardware, the several years Google stuck with its original camera sensor do support this idea of reusing the GN1 and other existing sensors.

Is Google adopting a ‘tick-tock’ cycle?

Given what we’ve learned so far, it sure seems like Google’s Pixel 7 will be a minor upgrade compared to its predecessor, which is certainly a change of pace compared to what we’ve seen over the Pixel’s lifetime. The original Pixel and its sequel are distinctly different phones, and every subsequent generation has seen at least a handful of updates and changes over the course of a year.

What the Pixel 7 could be starting is what’s known as a “tick-tock” cycle. Generally, a “tick” year is where not many notable updates are made, while a “tock” year delivers more substantial changes. This is a pattern other brands such as Apple and Intel have followed for years.

Here’s why this cycle could be a great idea for Google going forward.

Why a minor Pixel 7 upgrade is a good thing

Refinement is key to modern smartphones

Smartphones have had a plateau, at least in their traditional forms. Foldables and other new form factors are exciting, but the good ol’ slab has pretty much peaked. A “tick-tock” cycle for Google means one year focusing on a major update and another focusing on refining that big idea, squashing the bugs and problems instead of the next big thing.

After the laundry list of problems that have faced the Pixel 6 just in the past few months, this is the best possible course Google could follow. What could a “tick” year look like for Google in the Pixel 7? It might be a device with better network performance, more consistent software updates, and a replaced fingerprint sensor. These would be minor updates by most measurements, but in a year focused on refinement, they’re exactly what we would want to see.

Pixel 6 December update

Tensor needs time

Another advantage to spending less resources on the next big thing is that it opens the door for Google to put more focus on Tensor. While the first-gen Tensor chip was impressive for being a first showing, it’s not hard to see where it fell short.

As mentioned, connectivity on the Pixel 6 is considerably less reliable compared to smartphones using Qualcomm chips. It also seems clear at this point that the change over to Google’s own chipset led to a lot of software issues, particularly in the speed of updates. We’ll probably never know what specifically delayed so many Pixel 6 updates over the past several months, but it’s not hard to imagine that a change in workflow was a big contributing factor for Google’s teams.

If Google is able to spend less time building out a new design or delivering on some big new feature, it gives the company a bit more to throw at Tensor’s refinement. Of course, with Google’s teams usually split, there’s a good chance this won’t happen, but one can certainly hope.

Accessories won’t need to be re-invented

While you’ll often hear from enthusiasts that cases are unnecessary, the truth is that smartphone accessories, and cases in particular, are incredibly popular. The problem with Google’s Pixel lineup to date is that the series has changed so much that it’s hard for some of these brands to invest in continued support. If one year is disappointing in terms of sales, that’s traditionally been a loss for case makers on that generation of Pixel. The research and development costs sunk into that year are essentially wasted.

With a “tick-tock” cycle, Google would ease this burden and risk a bit. The leaked dimensions of the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro are different from the current Pixel 6 series, which means case makers would still need to make some tweaks to their cases and existing models won’t be reusable, but it’ll still ease the burden a fair bit. Plus, Google could double down on this in the future, should a “tick-tock” cycle stick around for a while.

With beloved brands from years past no longer making cases for newer Pixels, this is important going forward!

What’s the downside?

Slows the adoption of new features

Of course, adopting a release cycle that ignores big features does mean that the addition of new features slows down, usually quite dramatically. This could result in Google falling behind the rest of the Android crowd.

A great example of this is Apple, which is traditionally slow to adopt new features. Part of that is Apple’s mindset of waiting until something is up to a certain standard, but the company’s long-time “tick-tock” cycle, which is seemingly happy doubling down on the “tick,” is also partially responsible for the slow adoption of faster refresh rates, wireless charging, and new camera features such as periscope lenses.

Clearly, though, that’s all worked out in Apple’s favor. There’s probably a balance Google can hit with this, too. New features such as faster charging speeds, an updated fingerprint sensor, or tweaked optics are all things that, in theory, are fully possible in this existing design.

The unbearable weight of massive expectations

The biggest problem that Google will face if it does continue forward with a “tick-tock” cycle, though, is the huge expectations that the company has built in its fanbase. The Pixel is more heavily analyzed and scrutinized than any other Android smartphone, especially by the enthusiast community. Just look at the Pixel 6 Pro, which constantly gets flack from enthusiasts but is often praised by those who buy it as their personal phone.

Our Damien Wilde recently put a spotlight on that situation in his recent re-visit of the Pixel 6 Pro.

Word of mouth is a big deal for a small player in the smartphone space and there are certainly vocal groups that swear by the Pixel series and some that have very valid complaints due to the perceived lack of quality in both hardware and software.

My own retail unit has had almost no issues. Which, according to the internet means that I’m likely in the minority. Without discounting certain owners’ experiences, when things are good, and in most cases they are, the Pixel 6 Pro is still among the very best on Android.

The enthusiast market is one that wants the next big thing immediately and is very vocal when things don’t go exactly right. The average consumer, the one Google really wants, isn’t too concerned with that sort of thing, but enthusiasts have a voice that influences other markets. A Pixel 7 that turns out to be a minor upgrade will be fine for some, but not enough for others. It’s a line that Google has to balance.

What do you want Google to do?

Personally, I really want Google to stick with a “tick-tock” cycle, starting with this Pixel 7’s upgrade. I think it will be better for the lineup in the long-term. But what do you think? Should Google try to keep up with the latest and greatest, perhaps at the expense of the overall experience? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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About the Author

Ben Schoon

Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

Find him on Twitter @NexusBen. Send tips to schoon@9to5g.com or encrypted to benschoon@protonmail.com.