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Google unveils Chromebook Pixel, a high-end, touch-enabled cloud machine: My impressions

IMG_5446Google(s GOOG) today announced Chromebook Pixel, its next-generation cloud computer that is powered by an Intel Core i5(s INTC) processor and comes ready to connect to Verizon’s(s VZW) LTE network is based on its Chrome OS. It will ship in about three months. The device is going to cost $1,499 with LTE and $1,299 with just Wi-Fi and it is available to order on Google Play today and from Best Buy(s BBY) tomorrow morning. The Wi-Fi version will be available in the U.K. as well.

Update: Google said later on Thursday that the Wi-Fi models will start shipping next week.

The Mountain View, Calif-based company has designed and built this new machine to carefully integrate the software, its web services and the hardware in a seamless manner. “About two years ago, we decided to rethink the laptop,” said Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Google Chrome. The big idea: re-imagine the laptop for cloud services.

IMG_5444For instance, since the web-oriented machine’s primary task is to use the web, the size of the screen has been modified from 16:9 size to 3:2, a development that is going to delight the fans of classic IBM ThinkPad. The device’s screen is reminiscent of Apple’s(s AAPL) Retina display and is powered by the Intel Core i5 processor and uses SSD flash. It delivers about five hours of battery time. The Wi-Fi version has 32 GB of flash, and the LTE version has 64 GB of flash as storage. “We think our ecosystem will respond with new devices that use touch and Chrome OS,” said Pichai.

IMG_5443“It brings best of Google together — everything is built right in,” said Pichai. Gmail, the Chrome browser and other Google apps are integrated into this device.The device also has built-in QuickOffice, a mobile productivity suite Google acquired in 2012. And the big news: Google Drive will come with 1 TB of storage space. Why? Photos, of course.

If you have photos on an SD card, then the device will automatically find and upload them to Google Plus Photos, a somewhat creepy and evil tactic by Google to goose its Google Plus un-social network. Of course you can share those photos via Google Plus and other Google services — nevermind the fact that we like to use Twitter and Facebook(s FB) and Instagram to share. Pichai said that services such as Twitter and Facebook can write to their hardware APIs to do seamless uploads.

“Web hasn’t had touch and high-resolution screens before,” said Pichai. He argued that opens up whole different opportunities for developers. It goes without saying that the emergence of the iPad has changed our expectations of how we interact and consume information. The new Chromebook Pixel is a tip of the hat to that new reality of today’s computing environment. “In the future all laptops will have touch built into them,” Pichai said.

In a quick hands-on, the device met the claims made by Pichai and his team. The build quality is top notch, reminiscent of Macbook Pros. The 3.3-pound device has a great keyboard and the screen is indeed a good rival to the Retina display. The device is really speedy, but it is the network speeds that will define how one experiences the Chromebook Pixel.

I surfed through a few websites — and clicked on a lot of ads, unintentionally. I used Google Maps and Google Photos and used touch to experience them. I am guessing that there is a growing number of people who want touch on their laptops — I simply use the iPad for all things cloud.

That said, I have some reservations about the device and its positioning. It is hard to pay $1,299 for a device when I can get a better-equipped MacBook Air, which despite its age is a lot more flexible and expandable. Pichai said that he wanted to focus on the high end of the market because they want power users, early adopters and developers to embrace this platform.

A good idea in theory — except that for developers to develop on this platform, Google needs scale for Chromebook Pixel and that means it needs a whole lot of machines in the hands of people. A Wall Street Journal report from Wednesday indicated that Google sold a mere 100,000 of these devices in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Pichai and I argued a bit about the pricing strategy: my belief is that they need to sell a lot more devices so the price has to be much much lower. Pichai argues that one needs to be able to open our mind to the possibilities of a cloud-based machine. He said that one shouldn’t look at the 32 GB of storage, but instead focus on the terabyte of storage space that comes as part of Google Drive.

“The device is for a segment committed to living to the cloud, and who really want a good, high-end laptop, and we believe we have built the best laptop for that experience,” he added.


61 Responses to “Google unveils Chromebook Pixel, a high-end, touch-enabled cloud machine: My impressions”

  1. It’s interesting that they would release this because a lot of the complaints I’ve seen about the MacBook Pro retina are related to web sites looking weird due to the high resolution. People using iMovie / final cut, aperture, and Xcode love it. So here’s a machine that can only do web and its best feature works against it.

  2. I’m still digesting this multitude strategy of having Android on one side and Chrome on the other. It feels more like a rift within Google than a thought out strategy. When will Google abandon Chrome OS in favor of running Chrome on Android and port Android to these devices?

  3. Mike Enos

    Is it made in the USA like the Q was supposed to be? Maybe they are just trying to keep that facility operating. There’s got to be some better explanation for the pricing…

  4. Om
    Great article. I wish I had been there to listen in on the pricing argument you had.
    In general I would side with the marketer that they own the pricing but it is up to the market whether or are we are willing to pay that price. It appears Google is taking a similar position Motorola took with Xoom pricing, stating, “the product deserves its price”. No product deserves its price.

    That said given their ethos of data driven decisions it is likely they uncovered and are targeting a very small segment that values touchscreen on laptop and cloud storage and hence willing to pay for it while those of us who raise concern about the price are not in their target segment.


    • Rags,

      To be clear — I am not knocking Google for trying something new or trying to make new hardware. I just think they need to make it simple for people to adopt their technology. I am working on a follow up and will try and finish it up later tonight/tomorrow morning depending on this damn flu I can’t seem to shake off.

  5. Larry: This Chromebook is a cheap piece of sh*t. I need a thin, light, powerful and sturdy laptop.

    Assistant brings him a Retina Mac Book Pro

    Larry: WTF! I can’t use that. Apple is at thermonuclear war with us. Bring me something else.

    Assistant brings him a Thinkpad.

    Larry: WTF! You brought be a Chinese laptop running Microsoft Windows? Don’t you know both Microsoft and China are at war with us? Screw them all. Go build me our laptop.

    And thus the pixel was born.

  6. sleeplessinva

    Everyone that is criticizing Google has it all wrong. Google is taking the concept of VAR and turning it on its head. The old day was to sell hardware at a loss and make money on the service. They are now undercutting their own google drive subscription plan at a loss and selling the hardware. The 1TB plan at 3 years costs $1800. If you are thinking about enrolling in that plan you would be stupid not to simply get the laptop (WiFi or LTE) and save a few bucks. Even if you don’t use the laptop, you still got Google Drive for a cheaper cost.

    The way I see it, you’re not buying a laptop. You’re buying a service that happens to come with a free laptop.

  7. is the 1TB drive tied to the original purchaser or too the hardware?

    if i wait a couple months and grab a used one on ebay do i get the storage?

    or could i grab one, make a quick sale but keep my 1TB drive?

  8. I get the $250 Chromebook–we have one (happy with it) and when it comes time to send the kids off to college, that’s what they’re getting and I’m won’t be crying in my oatmeal when the call comes that it was stolen or broken.

    But $1299 to our Google Overlords for a cloud based computer? Who do they think they are–Apple?

  9. I wish they had tiered pricing for this product based on the cloud storage requirements.
    $699 for 100 GB of Drive storage, $799 for 200 GB, $999 for 400 GB, $1299 for 1 TB.
    I can see myself paying up to $699 for this product but no more than that. For $1299 I would rather buy a Macbook.

  10. Mark McAndrew

    A full TB of storage that won’t be free after three years? Wow. How daft am I wasting 50 bucks on a HDD?

    I expect my broadband or cell connection can match SATA speeds now as well. Not to mention the cost – my PCI slots charge me extra if I use them too much, or at peak times.


  11. netgarden

    Om, it’s still a bit nebulous in the sense that when you think of WinTel, you see all of the margins flow to two vendors – Microsoft and Intel – in the PC OEM universe. The other source of reasonable margin dollars are ISVs and IT organizations that integrate and support.

    Taking that as a framework, if the goal is to catalyze hardware OEMs to build ChromaTel devices then it seems like a better path would have been to anoint a preferred OEM, as otherwise, why compete with Google if you are HP?

    Put another way, PC OEMs are already making negative margin, so Google either needs to present better margins or a new source of revenue + profitability growth to tip the needle with that audience. Maybe its that a cloud device requires high end capabilities or that buyers will shift their incremental dollars from OS to hardware?

    Alternatively, if they were attacking this from the standpoint of a better all around solution (i.e., end run the OEMs), then it seems like software, services or support become the call to action.

    If it’s none of the above, this feels more like a vanity / branding exercise.

    Where’s the 1+1=3 is my point? It’s non-obvious. Google should create legions of ISVs and Integrators and disrupt Microsoft via a segment that is always looking for new ways to grow profitably. Create an indirect channel into the enterprise, would be a direct hit on Microsoft’s core.

  12. They need to justify price. How about offering the following to users who buy this (Let them select an offer that they like the most)

    1. Free Google Apps for Business for 1 user for 1 year :)
    2. Ad free access to Google services to the user for the life of this device.
    3. Giving 50 GB gmail account free with this for the life of this device.

    If this is an A/B kind of test, then the offer only gives them more market research info about the popularity and worth of each of their services in the eyes of the users.

  13. Would be a great product, if they can run MSFT Office on it (for real world people).

    Which early adopter is sitting home and clicking photos to upload into a social network she/he is not using. Price is too high for incremental improvements.

  14. Amit Singh

    Being a user of this device for couple of months and now moving to it full time (and giving up my macair) I can tell all of you, that this is the best laptop I have ever had. I use it for all my daily computing needs – email, docs, hangouts, storage. The keypad is awesome as is the touch interface. My kids love this device. Its not for everyone for sure – but for people who live in the cloud and are looking for a beautiful simple device this is a great product and with all the free bees a good price.


  15. netgarden

    Om, in this context then is ecosystem hardware OEMs, software developers, integrators, or? I am just trying to wrap my head around the delta that hardware gains their primary target.

    Hence, the question of support (i.e., one throat to choke – unlikely, since Google is all about self-service), platform or core service as the key “so what.”

    Otherwise, it’s just a bundle, right?

    • @netgarden

      Think Windows ecosystem – I bet you see same form factor machines from Acer and Asus within 6 months and HP too will introduce similar machines. It is everything a Windows laptop used to be (except it is ChromeTel).

      Also, elaborate your question a little bit so i can answer with the pressure of time ;-)

  16. markkadams

    Good comments, especially the point about hover. Steve Jobs said they looked at touch on a PC, and concluded that people don’t want touch on a vertical surface where they have to keep their arms suspended in the air.

  17. I think you glossed over the most important aspect of this offering – not the hardware, but the Google Drive storage. As a separate offering, Google sells 1 TB of storage for 2 years @ $1200.00. With this deal, you basically get a 3rd year of storage plus a fairly powerful device thrown in all for an extra $100. While this may not appeal to the masses, this is a very unique sales model and could prove to be more successful than you think.

    • @trevor

      Actually that is the point I make in the post – the big news is 1 TB storage — but try telling that to an average consumer and make them excited about why it is a big deal. Google Chrome OS team, well meaning as they are, are underestimating people’s ingrained behaviors around purchasing decisions. I would be the first one to stand up and admit I am wrong about it, but I know all of us (consumers) are highly irrational.

  18. netgarden

    I honestly don’t get it, but it’s a good test to see if there is a market for companies that want to standardize on all things Google.

    If they can do a better job of making tangible what those benefits are (e.g., better technical support, a specific hybrid service that relies on this integration, an interesting platform play for developers that requires this integration, etc.), then maybe it’d be clearer.

  19. Excellent post. Google knows how to be in competition with big companies so first he tries to compete with Facebook by making Google plus and now they are trying to compete with Apple and they are making laptops. This laptop sounds cool but will they make mobile phone as well?

    Thank you

  20. Personally, I don’t see it – but some will buy. Not terribly different than an Ultrabook like computer (which are having some mild success in restoring vanishing hardware margins).

    Great form factor – but a $1000 premium for $200 in incremental hardware plus “thin and sexy” is tempting, but not enough.

    • @brown_te, i think the hardware is actually pretty nice, but they need to really subsidize it and then people would be interested in this puppy. I am working on it right now and can’t say I totally hate it. But I don’t really love it.

  21. Travis Henning

    I see another Nexus Q in this product. Over priced for what it is and does.

    Macbook Air is cheaper, lighter and runs longer but has worse screen
    Macbook Pro Retina runs longer, has more storage and similar screen but is $200 more

    Cloud is cool, but a selling point of the cloud is to drive down hardware prices.

  22. matthew_maurice

    “and clicked on a lot of ads, unintentionally.” The first part of that should delight the AdWords people, and the last part should horrify their true customer, the advertisers who just paid for that click they now know is worthless.”

  23. John Proffitt

    This is insanity.

    Between this and the Glass project, Google is pricing itself out of the consumer market — the very market it must satisfy to get enough users to justify their data collection and advertising efforts. A $250 Chromebook makes *some* sense in a few use cases and helps Google collect data on as many people as can fork over that kind of money for a cloud laptop. And there’s lots of consumers who can do that.

    But what consumers, and how many, will fork over $1,300 for a cloud laptop? A few hundred? The Chromebook has not been a sales success. The Pixel will do far worse.

    I’d snap up a Pixel at $500, think about it but still get it at $600, but at $700 and up I’d have to have some really compelling reason to drop that kind of cash and Chrome OS, which I like, is not worth that much money.

    Consider the most expensive iPad is under $1,000 — even with some accessories — and has far more use cases than the Pixel at $1,300. The iPad has a gigantic app ecosystem and has a refined and proven touch interface. The Pixel fails as a $1,300 laptop but it also fails as a $1,300 iPad replacement.

    I’m glad Google is starting to focus some efforts on high-quality hardware. But their business is mass collection and distribution of data, and ultra-niche products like the Pixel are not aligned with that business model.

    • Steven Rogoff

      “I’m glad Google is starting to focus some efforts on high-quality hardware. But their business is mass collection and distribution of data, and ultra-niche products like the Pixel are not aligned with that business model.”

      In case you haven’t notice, Google is already expanding its market base. I won’t be surprised if they start taking over the desktop market as well.

      “But what consumers, and how many, will fork over $1,300 for a cloud laptop? A few hundred? The Chromebook has not been a sales success. The Pixel will do far worse.”

      It’s just a cloud laptop, for now.

      Keep in mind that ChromeOS, just like stock Android, is easily upgraded. Which means that Google can easily integrate Google Play for the Chromebook. With that hardware, its the only logical path.

  24. SockRolid

    Re: “Web hasn’t had touch and high-resolution screens before,”

    And evidently the web won’t need to respond to cursor hover any more either. Can’t “hover” with a touchscreen interface. No cursor.

      • David Meyer

        Actually you can hover with touch if it’s implemented. For example, if I use Chrome (touch-enabled desktop version) on my Windows 8 convertible, one tap on the screen simulates hovering (I just tested it on an xkcd comic), and the second actually clicks on whatever the link is. It’s probably not how touch should ideally work, but it does do hovering.

  25. Google lost it’s mind, are they trying to get the worst product of the year award again?
    1300$ for that? Would be hard to sell it at 500$ Someone needs a (100%) pay cut at Google.