March 02, 2013, 6:59 AM — As someone who already owns and loves a Chromebook, I've been trying to wrap my head around why Google dedicated R&D, manufacturing and marketing effort to the Chromebook Pixel.
The Pixel is clearly not a cheap, simple portal to the Web in the mold of other Chromebooks. It has frilly features like a touch screen with a Retina display-matching 2560-by-1700 resolution, an anodized aluminum chassis, and a trio of noise-canceling microphones.
The glamor doesn't stop there, though. The Pixel's outer beauty is matched by some beastly (for a Chromebook) hardware specs. It boasts an Intel Core i5 processor that thoroughly out-muscles the low-end Celeron chips found in most other Chromebooks, and 32GB of storage that's far more than what's necessary for Chrome OS.
That's a lot of polish and performance for an operating system that revolves around a web browser. And at a starting price of $1,299, it's hard to imagine the Chromebook Pixel selling well. Google already has a hard enough time selling the world on cheap Chromebooks, let alone super-expensive ones.
So why does the Chromebook Pixel even exist? The answer lies in the device's "For what's next" tagline.
Maybe it's a statement
Previously, Chromebooks have been a simplicity-focused response to Windows PCs. They boot up faster. They're more secure. They don't have a deep set of system options to master. And, for the money, the hardware is in many cases better designed than the build quality on similarly priced Windows notebooks.
Look at Samsung's $250 Series 3 Chromebook, a device that's as thin and light as an Ultrabook, but at a third of the price. Anyone who runs a spec-by-spec comparison with a cheap Windows machine misses the point, because that's not what Chromebooks are about. Chromebooks are about serving their single purpose--getting on the Web--extremely well, and many of them are better at this task than comparably priced Windows machines.
The Chromebook Pixel seems to be taking this philosophy and aiming it at the MacBook Pro with Retina display. Like the MacBook Pro, the Pixel has a gorgeous display (but with touch) and a premium design, but for $200 cheaper, and with a lifetime of software upgrades at no extra cost.
Is the difference in price worth the sacrifice of installed applications? Not for the vast majority of people, and especially not at this price level, where people are buying machines for serious work. But as always, Google is banking on the chance that a growing sliver of people spend all their time in a browser anyway. This is the first attempt to appeal to that audience--and probably won't be the last.