February 23, 2013

The Chromebook Pixel: Who Will Buy It?

When looking at the specifications and build quality of the new Chromebook Pixel, there is no question it is a well-designed machine.

The hidden screws, invisible speakers, and other niceties, all speak of an evolution in the spirit of design made famous by Steve Jobs and Apple. But this time it is Google looking to push its vision of cloud-centric computing to a broader audience.

Yet, given the Pixel’s price ($1,299 or $1,499 for an LTE version), the question arises about who this laptop will be suited for. Such high-end devices are often the realm of those with more demanding computer needs. This means that even though the internals of the Chromebook Pixel may be satisfactory, the operating system might not.

Chrome has been pitched as a minimalist computing system, as it essentially just runs the Chrome web browser and Chrome-powered web apps. Those who have needs for specific Mac or Windows software will need to look elsewhere.

Google’s success with Chromebooks has primarily been at the low end of the market, with its $249 Samsung Chromebook remaining as the number one selling computer on Amazon for about four months. The idea of a Chromebook as a secondary device for travel or a lightweight companion has made a lot of sense.

With the Pixel, Google now is looking for those who will go all in. A laptop this expensive will be most users’ primary device, which means whoever is buying it will need to weigh the limitations.

For some it may be fine; I sometimes feel like my MacBook Pro is a glorified Chromebook, as I do so much inside the Chrome browser anyway. On the other hand, times arise where native applications such as Snapseed, Pocket, Evernote, Office, and iTunes are necessary. While there are web apps for most of these apps, or equivalent Google applications, this just sometimes does not fit into my workflow. Sometimes maintaining compatibility with others is more important than simply choosing what I would prefer to use.

The concept of the Chromebook Pixel intrigues me and I would probably be one of their target buyers. But until a larger segment of the computing world goes all-Google, keeping the legacy desktop software around is a necessity.

This is a challenging go for Google, but one it has clearly decided it needs to make. This year will tell if Chrome can become a genuine third option as an operating system.

Image Credit: Google Chrome Blog

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