The head of Google’s Pixel camera department Marc Levoy has left the company, according to a new report from The Information, who claims he departed in March. It also states Pixel general manager Mario Queiroz is no longer at Google, meaning two top executives on the Pixel team have left shortly before the release of the Pixel 4a, expected early June.
The report said, “The mastermind behind Google's Pixel camera, Marc Levoy, who last year showed off his team's photography advances during a Google event in New York City, left the company in March. The exit, which hasn't been previously reported, follows the departure of Pixel general manager Mario Queiroz, the second top executive to leave the Pixel orbit in less than a year.”
It is not clear if he and Queiroz were fired or walked, or who will replace them. Levoy made the presentation of the Pixel 4’s camera at its launch:
These departures are presented in the context of poor Pixel 4 sales, reportedly “around 2 million units in the first two quarters it was available … a drop from the 3.5 million Pixel 3 and nearly 3 million Pixel 3a models that shipped in the first two quarters of their availability.”
It leaves Google with just 3% of the US smartphone market, according to analyst firm IDC.
Rick Osterloh, head of hardware at Google, was said in the report to have expressed disappointment in the Pixel team and product. Per sources at an all-hands meeting shortly before the Pixel 4’s launch in October 2019 he “informed staff about his own misgivings. He told them he did not agree with some of the decisions made about the phone, according to two people who were present at the meeting. In particular, he was disappointed in its battery power.”
This would have been a bitter blow to a team on the verge of trying to enthusiastically launch a product, and also raises the question as to the power dynamics in the team. For Osterloh to deem it acceptable to shun a product right before launch perhaps shows either things were hidden from him, or he wasn’t in control of the process to the degree necessary.
That means the Pixel 4a will be launched without Levoy, a championed camera expert, and Queiroz, who must have led the project at some point. We like Pixel phones, but as they approach their fifth generation, they will not have succeeded in the way Google intended. It appears the company has moved to try and change that.