Chromebook Pixel: Google I/O could reveal its secret mission

Chromebook Pixel: Google I/O could reveal its secret mission

Summary: The amazing hardware in the Chromebook Pixel tips Google’s hand on a greater trajectory for ChromeOS. Whether Google I/O begins to reveal the details is one of this week’s big questions.

Google's Sundar Pichai explains the Chromebook Pixel. | Image: Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

It's time to find out the raison d'être of the Chromebook Pixel. I refuse to believe that all that high-end hardware is meant to run a really fast web browser, and I have a conspiracy theory about the secret mission of the Chromebook Pixel. I'm going to be looking for clues coming out of Google I/O this week to see if they support my theory.

I'll confess that I'm infatuated with the Pixel. I shouldn’t really like the world's most over-priced and over-engineered web browser—that's truly what the Pixel is—but it's fast, simple, and it just works for most of the stuff I do. And, yes, I've been beguiled by its outstanding display.

Still, I wouldn't pay US$1300 out of my own pocket to buy a Pixel, so I can hardly recommend it to others—at least not yet. A lot of the techies I talk to have a similar opinion, even the ones that live and die in the cloud and typically buy the latest cutting edge devices.

That has left me to wonder why Google would put so much energy and so many resources into a product that appeals to so few. An even bigger question is why Google would load the Chromebook Pixel with so much high-end hardware, when the Samsung Chromebook runs just fine on a US$250 ARM-powered system.

A costly and powerful Intel Core-i5 chip runs the Pixel, along with 4GB of RAM, 32GB/64GB of Flash storage, dual-band Wi-Fi, a huge glass trackpad, high definition webcam, multiple microphone array, and high quality built-in stereo speakers. That's a ton of hardware to throw at at device that does nothing but load web pages. And, we haven't even talked about the Pixel's screen yet.

The Pixel's crowning glory is its 2560 x 1700 resolution multi-touch display. At 239 pixels per inch (PPI), it even has slightly higher resolution that Apple's Retina Display on the MacBook Pro. The touchscreen works great, especially for scrolling and zooming, but oddly there are very few functions on the Pixel that take advantage of it (Google hasn't forced touch on PC users the way Windows 8 has).

And, that's where my theory comes in. The fact that Google went to all of this trouble to create a touchscreen laptop but launched it with such a small set of multi-touch capabilities points to a big Chromebook software update in the future.

While such an update could greatly enhance what you can do with the Pixel's touchscreen, I have to believe that it could also significantly broaden ChromeOS in general and the Pixel specifically. When I look at the Pixel, I see Google telegraphing its intentions for the future of Chromebooks, and it's clear that Google wants Chromebooks to do a lot more than just send and receive emails, edit online documents, and read through static web pages.

The Chromebook Pixel is a future-leaning device that is destined to be paired with a greatly-expanded version of ChromeOS to take advantage of all that high-end hardware. In other words, it looks like a machine that Google pushed into the market with the intention of developing into something much more powerful. Think of it as a proof-of-concept that shows where Chromebooks can go, in order to entice a lot more developers to get on board.


However, Google itself is going to have to do more with ChromeOS and the Chromebook in order to excite more developers and to attract more consumers and enterprises. That's where Google I/O comes in this week. The leader in charge of the now-unified Chrome and Android divisions at Google, Sundar Pichai, indicated last week that Google I/O is going to be less about new product launches and more about driving the the ecosystems of Chrome and Android.

In terms of what Google can and might do to enhance ChromeOS and the Chromebook Pixel, the list could include enhanced offline capabilities for important web apps, more Google-developed apps for missing functionality like photo and video editing, and easier file storage and backups.

But, the biggest and most anticipated development could be the ability to run Android tablet apps on ChromeOS, especially on the multitouch Chromebook Pixel. While there would be some key details to overcome—most notably screen resolution—the addition of these large screen Android apps would immediately bring an welcome set of expanded capabilities, as James Kendrick has previously explained. If we don't see it at Google I/O 2013, keep an eye out for it in the future, since Pichai hinted that more Chrome and Android synergies are coming.

And, more generally, I'd recommend that you watch the information coming out of Google I/O this week for ChromeOS improvements that could shed light on Google's bigger vision for the Chromebook Pixel.

Google will livestream the Google I/O 2013 keynote on YouTube at 9:00AM Pacific on Wednesday. If you're working and can't watch the video, then you can also follow along with CNET's live blog. You can also follow my Twitter or Google+ stream for my live analysis of the events.

Topics: Software, Google, Hardware, Operating Systems

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  • Just one more P.T. Barnum moment.

    USD$1,300.00 for a fancy web browser? Is Google trying to become Apple?
    • "Is Google trying to become Apple?"

      Now that is funny...
      • Is there a MacBook with a touchscreen?

        (and no, the iPad doesn't count).
        Richard Estes
        • Google's secret mission has been revealed...

          ....and it is not about touchscreen, it is about Chrome local apps. Chromebooks are currently in "web browser on a device" mode at the moment. Although Chromebooks' reception (high levels of client satisfaction, and promising sales despite limited marketing, availability, and advertising) indicates this is sufficient, Google is pushing Chrome local apps, and I think they are going to hold off serious marketing of Chromebooks to compete head on with Windows, until Portable Native Client is released as stable, QuickOffice is built into Chrome, and Chrome Runtime is released as stable for standalone Chrome apps on any platform.

          The Google i/o 2013 talk on packaged apps makes it clear that it is all about local apps offline by default, and that the Chrome Runtime would be available on Linux, Windows, OSX, and laster Android and iOS. This is all Microsoft's worst fears coming true - a single development platform which will allow code to be written once and run on any major OS platform, based on open standards/web standards and which will draw developers away from Metro app development - and it will. It is about having not only an OS within a browser, but also a non-browser Chrome runtime for write once run anywhere offline apps on any platform, including Windows Macbooks and Chromebooks, with or without a browser installed. I think they are waiting for this to be in place before the big push on marketing.
    • It's not just a web browser

      Chrome native apps install and run (even offline) just like any apps in a traditional OS. SecureShell is a native app that I use all the time. Same with Chrome Remote Desktop. They are installed locally and launch immediately.

      I'm my experience, anyone who calls a Chromebook a web browser has no experience using one and just doesn't get it. They're the same people who complain when they are given a thin client instead of a PC, not realizing that their productivity and overall computing experience is better on a terminal server.

      And before you can complain about needing to work offline, native apps like Offline Gmail sync just like a PC mail client. But, seriously, how often does anyone work offline? If I don't have an internet connection, I see little point besides playing a game -- which also installs and works offline on a Chromebook.
      • Has no experience using one...

        Thank you! What I've determined is that most of the people that seem so clueless when commenting regarding Chrome OS devices are just that; clueless. They've never used a Chrome OS device. Chrome OS has a very bright future.
        • I don't have to use or own a pair of $375 sneakers, to know that,

          it's still a pair of sneakers, which will perform the same job as a $45 pair of sneakers.

          It's overkill and a waste of money, and it's still a solution looking for a problem. Why purchase a device at $1300-$1500, when a $400 PC can do all of the same tasks, and much more?
        • All About Web Apps

          My experience with the earlier Chromebooks was mostly positive, and all of my app needs were fulfilled via the web be it music, photo editing, web programming, you name it. Most people just aren't aware yet of what modern web technologies are capable of, but that is going to change sooner or later with higher broadband speeds and easier access to the web coming our way.
          Danny McVey
    • It's called a "fall back position"

      yes, they made an expensive high end Chromebook, but given that sales of ChromeOS based devices are far from what anyone would say are great, the fact that it includes high end hardware to run a simple web browser is their fall back -

      if/when Chrome is canceled, they can still install another OS on it and be quite happy as it does have a very sgharp display.

      There might be some "disatisfied customer" issues with lesser models from Samsung, but that'll be Samsung's problem at that point in time.
      William Farrel
      • Right

        > sales of ChromeOS based devices are far from what anyone would say are great

        You're right. The number one laptop on Amazon since October is just not selling at all.
        • It is selling - just not registering on Net Applications contributing sites

          According to Digitimes, Acer is selling 200,000 C7s per month in the US alone. Samsung is selling quite a bit more. This means that the number of Chromebooks sold over the last 6 months must have exceeded 2.8 million. In the UK Curry's PC World (UK's largest PC retailer) said that Chromebooks account for 10% of its computer sales - despite only a few of its shops displaying it and despite lack of advertising. So it is selling, although Google only set competitive prices from last october and is still only half heartedly marketing and distributing it.

          Android has the same Net Applications registering problem. We know for an undisputed fact that there are twice as many Android devices as iOS ones in use - this is from activation/subscription statistics. However Net Applications reports Android device numbers as a third of iOS based on their web usage stats - which is a facto of 6 out. Various theories have been advanced to explain this, but none of these make any sense, other than that Net Application's figures are just plain wrong.

          The reason why Net Applications figures may be completely off for Android or Chromebooks is very obvious when you think about which applications would be most often used on Chromebooks/Android. What do people do most commonly on the Internet? 95% of the time, it is email, instant messaging, social networking, cloud file backup, news, photo sharing, search. Chromebook users will overwhelmingly go for GMail, Google Docs, Google Hangouts, Google+, GDrive,, Picasa, Google Search. I believe that these sites do not submit stats to Net Applications, and it is likely that Google affiliate sites that use Google for authentication do not either.

          What if Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Office 365, Facebook, Dropbox,, Bing/Yahoo search and movie/video sites that Chromebooks can't access like Skype and movie sites based on Silverlight (like Netflix until very recently), submit stats for Net Applications while Google and Google affiliated websites do not? Bingo - there you have a bias, which seriously underestimates Android and Chromebook use.
    • Yeah adding offline to more apps and running android apps isnt a big deal

      not even close to being worth paying more than $249 for a chromebook
      Johnny Vegas
  • Chromebook Pixel: Google I/O could reveal its secret mission

    Kudos to the Chromebook Team.
    • daikon....I totally agree with you

      Kudos to the Chromebook they have put out the best product that money can buy.
      Over and Out
  • I believe they will expand chrome apps to all existing desktops

    so it could attract a lot of developers and apps something java with its crappy UI libraries could not achieve! with this way they will push Chromebook to the next level!
  • With no Wi-Fi

    You have a $1300 paperweight?

    I am trying to figure out what need this fills. For that kind od money I can get a system I can use anywhere regardless of connectivity.
    Jim Swarr
    • Offline.

      FYI, many of the features/apps are now available to work off line. Google drive files can be set to offline, gmail offline works well. I like the select-ability of what I need to have offline, instead of taking everything with me, I just select what I need.
    • No Wi-Fi?

      " dual-band Wi-Fi, "
    • Pixel has Wi-Fi.

      There's even a model with a Verizon 4G modem.
      Richard Estes
  • One more thing ...

    With the full Adobe Suite now moving to the cloud as cloud-based services, the Pixel becomes a very well-positioned media-development machine, arguably the best one out there. (No more of this, "Yeah, but you can't run Photoshop on it!" criticism.)