By now, you’ve likely heard about the Chromebook Pixel, Google’s first laptop. The Chrome OS device starts at $1,299 and appears to be an elegantly designed piece of hardware with the industry’s highest-resolution display in a notebook. And that screen is capable of touch, which Google is counting on to drive touch-optimized web apps in the future.
I can’t pass judgement on the device yet since I haven’t actually touched one. Om has, however, and shared his thoughts. I have a loaner Chromebook Pixel en route later today, so I’ll be able to experience it for myself and form a true impression. But on paper, it’s easy to see why many around the web haven’t warmed up to the Pixel: The cost is a huge barrier for a device that can only use the web or web apps. Yes, the 1 TB of included Google Drive storage for two years essentially negates the price of the Pixel, but that’s a hard sell to mainstream consumers.
Is touch for the web really all there is?
The Chromebook Pixel is for “what’s next”, Google claims. Is it? That depends on what’s next, of course! If I had to make an educated guess on what that is, I’d go with support for Android applications on the Chromebook Pixel. We’ve heard Google talk about merging Android and Chrome in the future but it really hasn’t happened as I had expected it to. In my mind, it would bring the one aspect missing with the Pixel right now: support for a vast ecosystem of applications.
I think this for a few reasons. The first is the comment made at the product launch by Sundar Pinchai, senior vice president of Google Chrome: “Web hasn’t had touch and high-resolution screens before.” Sure it has. Pick up a current model Apple iPad or even Google’s own Nexus 10 tablet: With its 2560 x 1600 resolution touchscreen, the Nexus 10 has a higher pixel density than the new Chromebook Pixel. Clearly, the “touch-enabled web” isn’t what’s next, it’s what we have today on millions of devices.
There’s more value for that touchscreen with Android apps
There’s also the value proposition of a Chromebook that starts at $1,299 for the Wi-Fi model and $1,499 for one with integrated LTE radio. I surely expect better performance from the Intel Core i5 powered Pixel over Intel Pentium Chromebooks in the $200 to $450 range. And the high-resolution display will add to the experience as well. But is that really needed for web work and do these “extras” provide $1,000 or more in benefit? I’m not sure about that just yet, even with the free terabyte of Google Drive storage.
What would be an added benefit is taking advantage of that touchscreen with applications. If Google were to add support for the Dalvik VM where Android apps run, the Pixel makes a little more sense to me as a product. Frankly, we don’t need touch on the web for a laptop form factor when multi-gesture trackpads replicate the experience more ergonomically. But if the touchscreen were leveraged for more use cases, that could add value.
Who wins with better web apps vs. who wins with Android apps
Another thought: Google pushing the Pixel as a means to propel web app development doesn’t just benefit Google. Any modern browser with the same support for HTML 5 and other web standards could take advantage of improved web apps. That doesn’t just apply to traditional computers running Mac OS X or Windows, but potentially even mobile devices. Including Android support on the Chromebook Pixel, however, feeds Google — and only Google — more information about users.
Again, I’m not critiquing the Chromebook Pixel device itself here; I’ll do that once I get my hands on one. And I’ll be evaluating it as a current Chromebook user; I’ve tried all prior Chromebook models and bought my own last year.
I want to know if it’s worth the upgrade to a Pixel as a dedicated Chromebook user. At the moment, I’m really trying to understand Google’s strategy with the Pixel because for much less money, I can do everything on my $450 Chromebook outside of touching the screen to interact with the web. Android application support, however, would enable more usage of that touchscreen while offering the ability to do more offline activity on the Pixel.