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Why Google bothered to make the Chromebook Pixel

Jared Newman | Feb. 25, 2013
As someone who already owns and loves a Chromebook, I've been trying to wrap my head around why Google dedicated R&D, manufacturing and marketing effort to the Chromebook Pixel.

Even if Google doesn't sell many Pixels, its mere existence opens the door for Chromebooks that eschew the usual Celeron CPU paired with a chintzy plastic case. The low end has already been established, and the Pixel lays claim to the high end. Now, let's see if other manufacturers take Google's bait and try to flush out the middle.

Maybe it's an experiment

The two most interesting elements of the Chromebook Pixel are its touch screen and its high-resolution display. There's a problem, however: Most of the Web isn't designed for either of those.

The Chromebook Pixel, then, could be a way to help usher the Web into the age of touch and high pixel density. I imagine Google will push to get the Pixel into the hands of developers and try to nudge them toward making high-resolution, touch-friendly Web apps. (I'll be surprised if there isn't some sort of promotion or giveaway at Google's IO conference in May.)

Touch screens and high-res displays are clearly the future for computing, and it behooves Google to have the open Web be part of it, rather than being relegated to second-tier status behind native apps. The Web is still where Google makes the bulk of its money, after all.

Maybe it's about merging Chrome OS and Android

There's been plenty of chatter lately about whether Chrome OS and Android will merge into a single operating system.

"Particularly in supporting touch, it further blurs the line between Android and Chrome, and perhaps arguably brings us a step closer to a day when those two operating systems may come together, as Google has previously indicated they may," Rubin says.

I have my doubts. Linus Upson, Google's vice president of engineering, has said that mashing laptops and tablets together doesn't make much sense. But he also said that Google's goal is to have a consistent user experience across devices. As the two operating systems share more features over time--such as Google Now notifications--touch is a way of adding more consistency between the two interfaces.

What it isn't: An actual bid for higher sales volumes

You'll notice that I didn't say that the Chromebook Pixel is Google's play to make beaucoup bucks at retail. Even if the Pixel is destined to play a crucial role in the future of Chromebook design, the merging of Google's dualing operating systems, or the very role of the open Web itself, it won't play a crucial role in actual stores. At $1,299, the Chromebook Pixel is a stunning paragon of what's next, but it simply isn't priced to sell.

 

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