Demand for the Pixel phone has surpassed Google's expectations and they're scrambling to keep up. Most of the coverage and speculation has been on the consumer end, mainly that Google doesn't have the infrastructure for worldwide distribution that companies like Apple do. While "Google versus Apple" discussions are an easy, click-generating binary to get sucked into, this doesn't tell the whole story.
According to Android Pit, the real distribution problem lies in Google's struggle to ship in the components they need to manufacture the smartphones.
The Pixel phone. Image courtesy of Google
In Android Pit's interview with Rick Osterloh, Google's (well, Alphabet's) head of hardware simply stated that there is a higher demand for the Pixel than Google has in stock. Although a recording or transcription of this interview isn't available online, I think it's a reasonable speculation that Osterloh wouldn't disclose that kind of information if it weren't true.
Second Sourcing and Distribution Issues
In Electronic Design's 2016 Salary & Career Report Survey, a lack of second sourcing for components was listed as one of the top frustrations for designers. In simpler terms, if somebody finds a component that they'd like to use in a design, they often can't get access to enough of them for mass production.
I actually tried to find distributors who carry the Snapdragon 821 processor, the key component of the Pixel phone—as far as I can tell, none do.
A list of common pain points for EEs from an Electronic Design survey. Note number 11. Image courtesy of Electronic Design
Sourcing issues would help explain the Pixel's excessive "sold out" status. However, they also put Google's announcement of the Pixel 2's impending release in a strange light.
Could people still be waiting on their gen-one Pixel when its successor hits the market? Can we expect similar issues with Pixel 2 distribution? You've got to wonder if there's a point where the thrill of exclusivity gives way to the frustration of inaccessibility.
How Can Designers Get Access to the Components They Need?
The whole issue of a lack of availability for hot ticket components seems strange. After all, it's in the manufacturer's best interest to meet demand for components. Is maintaining exclusivity really worth more than the potential profits lost by not being able to meet demand? Or does a lack of supply simply raise prices through scarcity?
We'd like to hear about this issue from the perspective of the engineers who have to work around it. Have you ever come across a component that you wanted to use in a design but couldn't due to availability issues? Did you find a different part or did you simply deal with a slower manufacturing schedule? Is there a solution to this issue?
Let us know about your experiences in the comments!