Putting the Chromebook Pixel in perspective

It's amazing what a difference a few days can make.

Chromebook Pixel

When I first learned about Google's Chromebook Pixel, I had the same reaction a lot of folks had: "Man, that's an expensive device." Even after I got my hands on the laptop and saw how impressive its hardware was -- the body, the keyboard and trackpad, and by God, that screen -- I still wasn't convinced it was worth 1300 bucks.

Having now used the Chromebook Pixel extensively for several days, my perspective has definitely evolved (which, incidentally, is why I always like to use a product for as long as possible before formally reviewing it; these things frequently happen). The Chromebook Pixel still isn't cheap -- that's for damn sure -- but for certain types of users, myself included, I can absolutely see an argument for its value.

You can read my full review for some in-depth thoughts on the Pixel's strengths and weaknesses and a detailed look at what it's like to use. Here, I want to focus on the bigger picture -- the questions so many people have been asking about why Google opted to make this high-priced product and how it fits into the broader Google ecosystem.

To find those answers, we need look no further than Google's own introduction of the Pixel. In launching the device, Google VP of Engineering Linus Upson said (the emphasis here is mine):

The Chromebook Pixel ... brings together the best in hardware, software and design to inspire the next generation of Chromebooks. With the Pixel, we set out to rethink all elements of a computer in order to design the best laptop possible, especially for power users who have fully embraced the cloud.

And one other quote worth considering:

Our goal is to continue to push the experience forward for everyone, working with the entire ecosystem to build the next generation of Chrome OS devices.

It doesn't get much clearer than that, gang. Does Google expect to sell a boatload of Chromebook Pixel computers? Probably not. But that isn't its ultimate mission with the device.

Google Chromebook Pixel

By building the Chromebook Pixel, Google accomplishes two key things: First, it creates a high-end luxury option for users sold on the Chrome OS concept -- people like me who rely heavily on cloud storage and spend most of their time using Web-based apps like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Drive.

Does anyone really need a system as nice as the Pixel for those purposes, you might ask? Of course not. But does anyone need any luxury-oriented item, whether we're talking computers, coffee, or cars? Not really. We buy 'em because their premium nature is appealing to us, and the quality they offer has the potential to make our lives easier or more enjoyable. The same goes for the Chromebook Pixel; it just happens to be a luxury product geared toward people who prefer a cloud-centric environment over a more traditional PC setup.

Google's other key accomplishment with the Pixel, as Upson divulged, is to "push the experience forward" and "inspire the next generation of Chromebooks." It's kind of like what Nexus phones are designed to do for Android: to show off what the platform can accomplish and how good it can be -- and, simultaneously, to encourage manufacturers and developers to build cool new things around it.

Chromebook Pixel Touchscreen

In the case of the Chromebook Pixel, you'd better believe the high-res display and touchscreen capabilities are a big part of that equation. Remember: Google's core business model isn't selling computers. It's selling Internet ads. And by encouraging people to build products and services that support a high-resolution, touch-friendly Web, Google is helping propel those technologies forward across the board.

Why? To make the Web more advanced and more engaging, of course -- and thus more likely to hold your attention for longer periods of time.

Just ask Google Senior Chrome VP Sundar Pichai. From an interview Pichai did this week with Wired:

Pichai said the goal with Pixel is to provide a premium laptop, at a premium price, but also to edge the Chrome ecosystem and web development toward the bleeding edge of computing, which demands touchscreens and high-resolution displays.

"We think our ecosystem will respond with a whole generation of new touchscreen devices," he said.

There ya have it.

Oh, and one more thing -- a little side effect of the new premium-priced entry in the Chromebook lineup. Have you noticed a common factor in many of the rants by people bashing the Chromebook Pixel? In knocking the Pixel, a large number of critics compare the product to the $249 Samsung Chromebook -- and in doing so, effectively talk about how compelling Chrome OS is at that lower price point.

Android Power Twitter

That's right: Even users who are explicitly turned off by a premium cloud-centric device like the Pixel are inadvertently helping promote the Chrome OS concept.

As far as Google's concerned, that's what we call a win-win situation.

UPDATE: Chromebook Pixel revisited: 6 months living with Google's luxury laptop

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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