Chromebook Pixel: Too Much, Too Soon

I'd like to apologize for suggesting, a couple of weeks ago, that Chromebooks represent a serious threat to Dell. Little did I know that Google would promptly shoot itself in the foot.

The self-inflicted wound came in the form of a US $1300 model, the Chromebook Pixel. That’s five times more expensive than Samsung’s Chromebook and seven times more than Acer’s.

Sure, you get more computer—a faster processor, a large touchscreen with a higher resolution than Apple’s best, more RAM, and ten times as much local storage. But not many ChromeOS applications can make use of a touchscreen; even a Retina display is overkill when you’re watching a movie on a 13-inch screen; and the local storage is still a paltry 32 Gigabytes—you need to store most of your stuff in the cloud, just as you do with the Pixel’s diminutive cousins.

The point of a Chromebook—and the threat it posed to Dell—was its low price, and its high functionality relative to its low price. Quintuple the cost, and both of those advantages disappear. The Pixel is twice the price of a Dell Inspiron 14” Ultrabook. Who at Google thought this was a good idea?

Probably the people trying to break into markets Google has largely been absent from—corporate executives who are relatively price-insensitive, for example. And make no mistake—Chromebooks are corporate computers par excellence. IT departments will push them for their easy configurability and controllability (they’re almost single-application computers, meaning the web browser) and for their limited ability to store potentially sensitive data locally.

There will be other power users for the Pixel as well: insurance adjusters, who need their computers to have good cameras and microphones in the field; doctors, making notes after their rounds; and fanboys who demand the best screen in the universe, even if there’s no use for it.

There’s one other point to the Chromebook Pixel—that’s as a loss leader to draw people into a Google store. Yes, Google is apparently building stores to compete with Apple’s highly profitable ones, and Microsoft’s so-far hapless ones.

Google is becoming a hardware-as-well-as-software company, just as Apple has become a software-as-well-as-hardware company. Android tablets and smartphones, Google Glass, a potential navigation system for cars, and now Chromebooks give Google quite a bit of kit to put on display. What better display to draw in potential purchasers than a 12.85-inch, 2560 x 1700 touchscreen?

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