News Column

Google Intros High-End, High-Priced Touch-Screen Chrome Laptop

Feb. 23, 2013

Brandon Bailey, San Jose Mercury News

google, high-end, chrome book

SAN FRANCISCO -- Betting that computer users are increasingly "committed to living in the cloud," Google (GOOG) on Thursday added to the line of laptops running its Chrome operating system by introducing a new high-end, high-priced notebook computer with touch-screen capability.

The new Chromebook Pixel laptop has an ultrahigh-resolution screen that's intended to outshine Apple's (AAPL) vaunted "Retina" screen. And unlike earlier Chromebook models that Google sells for $249 as second or third computers for workers, students and home users, the new machine is aimed at "power users" who might fork over $1,299 for a Wi-Fi model or $1,449 for a version that will connect to Verizon's high-speed LTE network.

That's a price many people would expect to pay for a MacBook Air or a premium Windows-based "Ultrabook," which come with more built-in storage and run widely used applications from Apple and Microsoft. One industry expert predicted the Pixel will have difficulty competing against that field.

"Even with beautiful hardware and a great screen, you're basically competing with very high-end, premium devices that at the end of the day can do

an awful lot more things that consumers want to do," said Michael Gartenberg, a personal technology analyst at the Gartner research group. "At that price point, I don't think we're going to see a whole lot sold."

But another analyst, Richard Shim of NPD DisplaySearch, said the Pixel capitalizes on trends that favor sleeker design, touch capability and other premium features. As consumers become accustomed to using smartphones and tablets alongside traditional PCs, he added, "that's providing an opportunity for nontraditional brands" including Google's Chromebooks.

Chromebooks have relatively small amounts of built-in flash memory -- 32 or 64 gigabytes -- and no hard drive, because the Chrome operating system was designed to use files and software applications that are stored "in the cloud," on servers reached via the Internet. With its new Pixel laptop, Google is offering a staggering 1,000 gigabytes of free online storage for three years.

"There's a set of users who spend money to buy full-fledged laptops, but this is targeted to a segment who have committed to living in the cloud," said Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president for Chrome.

Developed and built by Google, using a contract manufacturer in

Taiwan, the new laptop represents a further step by the Internet search giant into the business of making its own hardware devices. But the Chrome software is designed to encourage people to use Google's Web-based services, which are often integrated with its search and advertising business.

"I think it's less that they want to be in the hardware business and more that they want to guide the market toward new usage models" that rely on Web-based services, Shim added.

Pichai contended Thursday that many businesses and consumers are already embracing the cloud model. "Many companies have committed to using Google Apps," he said, referring to Google's suite of Web-based email, word-processing, spreadsheets and other programs.

Consumers are also using more Web-based apps, he added, joking that, "my mom and dad live in the cloud. They just don't know what the cloud is."

Google designed the Pixel for users who want premium features, including a full keyboard, an extra-tall touch screen and a high-speed Intel (INTC) processor, Pichai told reporters at a launch event. While other companies sell touch-screen laptops, he said none match the clarity of the new Chromebook's 239 pixels per inch.

"I'm pretty sure every laptop will have touch (capability) in the future, so we want to push that forward," he said.

While critics of earlier Chromebooks have complained about limited apps and inability to use popular software made by Microsoft and Apple, Pichai said the Pixel has new software that makes it easy for Chrome users to edit documents and spreadsheets that were created with Microsoft programs.

Google is developing more programs and working with independent developers to create more apps for the Chrome touch screen, he added.

By moving into touch computing, Chrome is potentially competing with Google's other operating system, Android, which powers a number of smartphones and tablets. "The lines do blur," Pichai acknowledged, but he said the two systems are compatible, so files and applications look the same on a Chromebook as they do on an Android smartphone.

"This helps us make apps look great across multiple screens," he said, adding that many users won't know or care which software they're using.

Google is selling the newest Chromebook through its online store and on Best Buy's website. Pichai did not answer directly when asked about rumors that Google is planning to open its own retail stores.

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.

Chromebook pixel specs

Screen: 12.85-inch touch-enabled, with 3:2 aspect ratio and pixel density of 239 ppi (2560 x 1700). Storage: 32 or 64 GB solid state drive; one TB of Google Drive online storage free for three years. Components: Intel Core i5 processor (1.8Ghz); 4 GB RAM. Battery life: up to 5 hours active use. Weight: 3.35 pounds. Other features include full keyboard and touchpad; HD webcam. Price: $1,299 for Wi-Fi model; $1,449 for Verizon LTE version. Source: Google

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