In defense of the Chromebook Pixel

In defense of the Chromebook Pixel

Summary: Nothing about Google's Chromebook Pixel makes sense. Maybe that's intentional...

TOPICS: Laptops
Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 22.39.07
It's a) silly, and b) gorgeous.

The only logical question about Pixel is "why would a successful company build a product that is entirely illogical and entirely unsellable"? I can think of three reasons...

The fridge

Back in January I spent a good proportion of one day during CES getting cross about a fridge. The fridge in question was Samsung's ridiculous mashup of a fridge where they stuffed an Android-based computer that could run Evernote into it. It's easy to push my buttons about fridges with general purpose computers embedded in them, it got my goat, and I whined about it.

Gallery: Google's new Chromebook - pretty as a Pixel

When I'd published the piece, my very good, real life friend Edward Behan pointed out to me that the whole point of the Samsung fridge might not have been to make a product that no one would want, but rather to game the media into talking about Samsung fridges. He asked me if I knew that Samsung made fridges before I'd heard about the stupid mashup one, and I confessed that I did not. I now do, and can probably never forget that fact. Moreover, Samsung got a lot of coverage that day.

What the insane Pixel does is, like Samsung's fridge, it gets everyone talking about Chromebooks. Twitter has gone on about nothing else for about six hours now. Google News has articles from 216 news sources already. I know of a number of people are going to be receiving their own trial/review hardware tomorrow, who are going to be doing some deep thinking about Chromebook and from there will be continuing to add grist to the Chromebook mill.

What's really interesting about the coverage though is that a good number of people are spinning the negativity about Pixel back into positivity about Chromebook generally. (I'm happy to be positive about Chromebook regardless of Pixel -- I think the Chromebook in concept and execution is a superb and I hope it does really well.)

Sam Biddle in Gizmodo in a (fantastic) piece called "Every Reason Not to Buy The Chromebook Pixel" closes the article by saying "The Chromebook as an idea is a splendid idea: a cheap laptop that gives you exactly your money's worth. Affordable computing. Simple computing. These are all good ideas." He then laments the stupidity of the Pixel, but the essential Chromebook message outside of whatever Pixel actually is or isn't is delivered in the text that I've quoted. "The Chromebook as an idea is a splendid idea".

Thus Google has hit a beautiful home run -- everyone is talking about Chromebook. Articles that like the Pixel are positive about both the Chromebook proposition and the Pixel device. Articles that dislike the Pixel remain positive about the Chromebook proposition.

What's happened here is that in terms of timing, Chromebook was just getting a toehold into the market. Even by releasing a product that has zero chance of actually, Google now has a toehold and a handhold. The whole manoeuvre (assuming it is one) is just beautifully done.

PC pricing

My second argument for building a hyper-expensive Chromebook is that it keeps a lid on average selling prices (ASP) of PCs. These are currently very low at only around $420 and part of the challenge of the PC industry is to get that price up. The lever for doing that is thought to be adding touch-screen capability -- specifically that people will pay more for a touch-screen than the actual hardware costs adding some breathing room into ASPs. It would also be nice (PC makers say) if people demanded a little more finesse and industrial design va-va-voom from their PCs, both of which would also kick ASP up some.

However, one thing the Pixel shows is that if you want a Chromebook beautiful industrial design, a high-density touch screen, light-weight, and premium materials, it is going to cost you $1,300. You then look at what it can do and think to yourself "that's ridiculous".

From that angle, Pixel may be doing the complete opposite of validating Microsoft's touch strategy with Windows 8 -- it may be positioning touch-screen technology as expensive and unnecessary. Similarly, you may think that naff plastic is just fine when hearing that making a chassis out of a unicorn/hyperdiamond blend doubles the cost of the unit. The Pixel makes the whole idea of expensive computing pointless in and of itself.

Coming back to the earlier point, the Pixel reminds everyone what the Chromebook is -- a very cheap piece of limited hardware that has a very specific purpose. But it also reminds people that PCs are also very cheap. Putting the idea in someone's head that they could pay $1,300 on something that doesn't deliver value could have the weird effect of reminding people that $420 for a PC is very good value.


Finally, people lament the change in Google from a bunch of scrappy geeks with cool ideas into something more corporate, but the Pixel could just be an experiment. Google can release any hardware it likes and no one cares. It makes money out of services, not hardware. No one really cares if Chromebook lives or dies -- at this point in time at least.

Microsoft and Apple are not in that position at all. Microsoft went all in saying it would build fantastic new PC hardware, and is now is getting lightly beaten up by industry watchers and the market for not entirely setting the world alight with it. Apple obviously has to be really careful. If it produced a $2,000 iPad that could only run mobile Safari -- quite a lot of their market cap would evaporate overnight.

What if Pixel is just to pilot working with a new manufacturing partner ahead of some other, more important and sensible project? Or just to see what happens if it works with a certain casing material? Or just to see what happens if it leaks an product video a week ahead of an actual release? Or just to see if anyone buys it and they end up with a new cash cow? Pixel doesn't have to be for anything. Similarly Google Glass doesn't have to be a serious product either -- all that product has to do is get people talking and thinking about that sort of technology.


I don't think it's like the Nexus Q, which was a bad product but something that emerged from Google's innards like it was a good product.

I think Pixel is deliberately bad. I'm quite confident about my first and last reasons, a bit less confident about the in the middle, but I suspect that in reality, the reason why the Pixel was created was probably something much, much smarter than anything I can think of. I don't think it was ever their intention to sell them in any real numbers.

I still quite fancy one though.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Laptops

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  • In defense of the Chromebook Pixel

    A $249 Chromebook looks good now.
    • So what you're really saying is....

      the media is now so in love with Google that even when they make a horrible product they spin it into a positive and claim making bad products is just good marketing.
      • cool8man Cromebook will win hands in the long run because

        — Google today showed off a sleek touch-screen laptop based on its Chrome operating system, making a big bet on a premium-priced, cloud-based machine in direct aim at Apple.

        The Mountain View, Calif., search giant unveiled the new touch laptop, called the Chromebook Pixel, at a press event here. The touch-screen device has the highest resolution available in a laptop, says Google.

        "It's clear touch is here to stay and it's the future," said Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome at Google.

        Google's Chromebook Pixel, a sleek aluminum-encased machine, in many ways physically resembles Apple's Mac lineup.

        But the Pixel targets a generation of people whose photos and applications are accessed via remote servers from so-called cloud-based services. That's because nowadays people spend most of their time in a Web browser on Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon or any number of services. The new Chromebooks will provide people 1 terabyte of data storage in the cloud for three years.

        "We think this is a real game changer in terms of people living in the cloud," said Pichai.

        Google's Pixel screen tops the 2560-by-1600 resolution of Apple's Macbook Pro with its Retina display, which Apple has previously touted as the highest-resolution notebook ever.

        "What you're getting from our hardware in many ways is far superior" to Apple, said Pichai.

        Pixel laptops will be available at $1,299 for a 32 GB Wi-Fi version (shipping next week) and $1,449 for 64GB 4G LTE version (scheduled to ship the first week of April). People can order them today at the Google Play store and tomorrow at Best Buy stores.

        Google has been turning up the heat on Microsoft's Windows and Office franchise. The Chromebooks from their very beginning featured a boot up time of a few seconds and quick access to Chrome search, Maps, Gmail, YouTube and Docs. Now, the Pixel has added an integrated Google Drive with the massive storage addition.

        Hardware manufacturers of those non-touch models include Samsung, Acer, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard, with prices starting at just $199..

        "Google smells blood" at Microsoft, said IDC analyst Crawford Del Prete. "They are an incredibly interesting proposition."

        The new Chromebook is just over half an inch thick and and weighs 3.3 lbs. The Pixel has a 12.85-inch display that has twice as many pixels as a standard HDTV, with 2560 X 1700 resolution, and uses Gorilla Glass, the durable glass used in Apple's iPhones.

        "It is the highest resolution that has ever been shipped on a laptop," Pichai said.

        The Pixel packs an Intel Core i5, a dual-core 1.8GHz processor, and has 4GB of DDR3 RAM memory. Google says the device's battery lasts up to 5 hours.

        Google's Chromebook Pixel is designed in house but made by several manufacturers based in Taiwan.
        Over and Out
        • not Apple

          The Chromebook is not an competitor to Apple's MacBook. The MacBook is an powerful professional machine.

          If Apple were to compete with the Chromebook, they would release an iPad with docked keyboard and be done with it, but.. They already have an iPad and there are plenty of good keyboards for it - so why bother. An iPad can do so much more than the Chromebook, and it can run Google Chrome too.

          Google are not competing with anyone here. They jus.t try to create computing experience on their own. Trouble is, that is limited to Google's services and many just will not sell their souls.
          • Not Limited to Google Services

            Wrong; except for Java (good riddance), Chromebooks run anything that's on the web, including Microsoft's web-based office applications.
          • Runs anything on the web...

            That's the biggest problem with Chromebooks. They're basically dumb clients for web services. When you want to get real work done on a cross country flight, you're hosed. When you want to get real work done in a location without web access, you're hosed. People don't like arbitrary limitations or unpleasant surprises in devices they use daily. They don't want to have to remember to move data to local storage prior to a period without Internet access. They want a tool that works everywhere without any forethought. That's why people generally ignoring Chromebooks at any price. The only thing this device is doing is getting Chromebooks a lot of additional negative publicity, when the vast majority of people already think they stink.
          • True if you're in the subset population of tech workers

            it may not matter so much for the general population that surfs the web and sends email.
          • Agreed.

            It's not less product for more money (less RAM, storage space, etc) but one has to be stuck to the internet do really do anything.

            Add in unconscionable terms of service and hope Google doesn't take anything you search or use for its own benefit (since you're using it as an investment to profit for yourself and not giving them a helping hand at your cost)...

            For $1300, I'd expect a lot more than just a shiny and pretty image; a veneer hiding something very rusty and ugly underneath.
          • They do...

            "People don't like arbitrary limitations or unpleasant surprises in devices they use daily."

            Sorry to disappoint you... but we do... it's called a trade off... we drive metal plate cars with some aluminum parts because we want the lightness of Aluminum but the predictably of iron.

            Higher end Digital cameras can't match the resolution of 1950's Kodakchrome file (pun intended), but you publish directly to the web...

            Whenever you say "people generally ignoring Chromebooks at any price" please state your facts more clearly or you sound like an MS troll.
          • Ha

            Who wants to pay a fortune for a silly terminal, I mean it is one thing to buy a cheap portable Google terminal because you either cannot afford a real computer or because you are not knowledgeable enough to understand that this is not a personal computer. But to spend all these money for the privilege to be a cloud sheep, now that is stupid.

            Having said that, this is where MS wants to be as well. But not for me I do not want a terminal in whatever price or form. They can keep their terminals and stupid cloud apps, I want a real computer and real applications.
          • Quite easy to see your in your upper 50's....

            When you consider a Chromebook "a terminal"...

            Else, you'll notice that PCs were even more limited--compared to mainframes--when they were released and today they rule... because people weren't measuring usefulness based on available RAM (even minis had 4Mb when PC were maxed out on 640k), hard drive (PC had none at time of introduction and a meager 156K floppy disk) and of course no real DBMS software...
          • Wrong Estimate

            I am just starting my “40’s” and if we are all going to be using terminals one way or another in the future that is not what I am trying to predict or dispute.

            The Chromebook is a stupid terminal and an extension of the Google services, if this is all you need in your life/work then you must be a very happy person, this overpriced terminal is made for you.

            Personally I like to own my computers and I don’t want to depend on some cloud crappy services to make it work for me. Google and all other major SW/HW companies are trying to turn computing into a utility so they can charge all they want and control everything. Good luck to them because I am not buying their “vision”. I will keep my hw, sw and data at home/office where they belong.
          • Any entry level PC

            is a powerful professional computer when compared to any chromebook! You can literally take a netbook and its more powerful than chromebook. Google and computer hardware = JOKE!
          • MS is a Joke...a ridiculous anachrononism.

            Anything with MS Windows is a Joke. its size, slowness, instability, vulnerability, ...boot time, licensing cost, blue screens, lockups, "missing dll", "operation failed" , "ignore/retry/cancel", constant downloads/installs, reboots.
            MS actually still CHARGES for its OS after 20 years of the above becoming worse every release. MS actually still CHARGES for word processing, spreadsheet software that you have to "download and install"
          • Ha2

            Windows 8 is a joke because its UI, I give you that, but in general Microsoft has real applications, Linux and OSX too. Google has google services and a web UI, these are not application, they are UIs for their crappy services.

            But you wasted enough time here, go back playing with your Picasa toy app while the grown ups work with Photoshop applications (you know, the old school apps that you can do your work with).
          • "Ha2"

            "Windows 8 is a joke because its UI"- I like and agree with your comment, with only one exception: the Windows 8 UI. Many, a great many, people who haven't even used the formerly-known as 'metro' UI. Some who have used it don't like it. Many others who have used it actually like it. I'm in the middle- I really like some of the apps that can be put on the start screen, but since the desktop works just like Windows 7's desktop, I use that the most. I don't understand why so many people screamed about the lack of the traditional start menu, because I never liked it after I had a lot of programs installed. It made finding them take longer and I don't like wasting time like that. Now, I pin the most used programs to the taskbar, just as I did in Windows 7, but- ALL of the programs installed, even the ones rarely used, are pinned onto the 'metro' screen. And search is amazingly faster- whether apps, files, store, I begin typing and results start popping up. Since I use the desktop probably 90% of the time, I simply put the computer into sleep mode and when it (instantly) wakens, it's still on the desktop, right where I left off. So, unless I want to, I don't even see the 'metro' screen, but the apps are there whenever I want to use one of them. I don't think it can be honestly said that an operating system is a "joke" just because one part of it doesn't thrill everyone... Windows 8 is faster and more stable and far more productive when used properly than even Windows 7. I carry my (off-brand~) touchscreen Windows 8 Pro tablet to class and the other students are amazed and want to know what kind of tablet (by which they mean "os") I'm using, and I know quite a few people who have begun using Windows 8 on desktops, laptops, and touchscreen tablets who absolutely love it. So, everyone is entitled to, and has, their own opinions, I respect that. But Windows 8, even the much maligned (by nonusers) 'metro' start screen, is not a "joke". Operating systems that are a "joke" don't usually sell 60 to 70 million copies and devices in four months, right?
          • Ha3

            The Windows 8 kernel is great, but the Windows 8 UI is a joke when it comes to desktop computers/laptops or real applications. It is irrelevant for any work related usage, together with all the nonsense about touch. No I don’t want to touch my 30” monitor, not now, not ever.

            Can you stop repeating this nonsense about the 60m copies sold. This is all bl.crp because it is mostly to OEMs. It does not mean that these are going to be real installations, or not been downgraded to Window 7.

            Here are some extra numbers for comparison:


            So even if Windows 8 reaches the 200m mark, it is still a monumental failure. It is a tablet OS pretending to be the real thing.

            Going back to the applications…or apps on Window 8 Metro crp UI, now that is a joke. There definitely better uses for your fingers than poking this crapware all day long. And let’s not forget that all these apps have to go through the app store, no more freedom of installing your own apps, they own your PC now because they decided to go the iOS route.

            At the end of the day if all you want to do is impress your classmates with your “new” tablet, then Windows 8 can do that job for the time being. Big, flashing rectangles, not too much information per square inch, not real productivity applications, easy stuff for all simpletons to cope with.
          • sadly, i agree

            i have a windows 8 laptop and i never use the metro UI which i daresay is more style than substance. i always use the traditional desktop.
  • Old

    The Samsung refrigerator is nowhere near the first other than possibly the first Android refrigerator. I wonder, is it running Jelly Bean or is it on Ice Cream Sandwich.

    Samsung is a huge company. If Matt didn't know that Samsung makes refrigerators, he doesn't understand South Korean Chaebols. Samsung has 277,000 employees. If you want life insurance or you are shipping magnate, you might want to call Samsung.
    • I Knew!

      That Samsung made refrigerators. They also make washer/dryers cause I have a set! They work really well. I'd like a Samsung fridge but I cannot afford! :(