Feb 25, 2013

Pixel Perfect. Is the Chromebook Pixel ready for primetime?

Last week, counter to what Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt has stated in the past, Google announced it’s releasing a touch enabled Chrome OS laptop, the Chromebook Pixel (starting at $1,299). Never heard of Chrome OS? Don’t worry. Although it was announced in 2009, Chrome OS hasn’t yet made much of an impact with hardware manufacturers. At its essence, Chrome OS is an operating system that only runs one program, the Chrome web browser. Websites are treated as apps in the Chrome Web Store. Installing an app adds a link to the page in your “Apps” list. Here is a brief video, put out by Google in which they do their best to paint the rosiest picture of all the possibilities for Chrome OS.

So, in short, Google has built on top of an existing Open Source project called Chromium OS, which seeks to turn the browser into the entire operating system. Running your OS in the browser is not a silver bullet to solve your PC issues, but it can definitely serve a niche or even shine as a couch or kitchen PC.

The release of the Chromebook Pixel marks a significant moment in Google’s timeline of pushing the Chromebook toward a full PC replacement. Chrome OS was initially targeted at, and is arguably much more appropriate for, netbook computers (smaller laptops intended for surfing the net). In terms of specifications, battery life, and cost, the pixel seems to have overshot the netbook market by a pretty fair margin. The Pixel price and hardware are more akin to the Macbook Air or the Microsoft Surface, both of which run a myriad of native software and offer boot up times closer to 10-20 seconds rather than the 45 seconds as mentioned in the 2010 video above.

Google’s focus is not the software user, though; it’s the web user. Despite the obvious fact that Google makes nearly all of its money from web properties, Google stands to gain the most by pushing the battle of the desktop PC from your desk to the cloud. The PC industry has had a massive head start in building out their eco systems. Google has little chance of converting a financing company that relies on the darkest depths of the office system to Chrome OS, or a creative agency that needs the full power of the Adobe Creative Suite. Rather than try to fight that uphill battle by releasing a PC competitor, Google is attempting to level the playing field by framing Chrome OS as a computer for the web user.

Chrome OS is Google’s touch enabled operating system for the always connected individual. Where does this leave Android? Lately we’ve seen the advent of larger screen Android devices and tablets that feature pen input, multiple application windows, Bluetooth keyboards, and full netbook style devices. Is Google planning to compete with itself in the touch device market? Will the Pixel cannibalize Android tablet sales?

Not Likely. First, let’s look at a previous statement by Google that attempts to explain the differences between the Chrome OS and Android.

“Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.”

There is clearly a planned overlap of the devices that Chrome OS and Android appear on. However, based on previous language by Google, one would not expect to see touch screen devices included in the Chromebook repertoire. The times they are a changing in the PC market, though, and Google clearly realizes it must react by enabling a touch experience in Chrome OS.

Touch has become extremely pervasive in our world. Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system and Ubuntu (the most popular consumer oriented Linux OS) have both received a UI overhaul to provide more touch centric interfaces and usability features. Users that are already comfortable reaching out to touch their tablet and phone will soon be instinctively reaching for the screen before the mouse. Google taking this step toward touch UI now puts them in the right spot to stay relevant with their evolving users.


Why it makes economic sense to go touch

As it has been with nearly all tech hardware, the prevalence of touch screen technology has driven a reduction in the cost of methods, materials, and technologies required to produce touch screen devices. This pattern in a way mirrors that of the computer memory (RAM) market around the release of Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system. The amount of memory required by the Operating System rose dramatically for Windows Vista. The increased demand for RAM caused a ramping up in production and an improvement in processes which in turn (coupled with a price fixing law suit) has caused a drastic reduction in consumer RAM prices. Fast forward to 2013, and we’re knee deep into another technological shift; this time to touchscreens.

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