Good riddance: Google doesn’t need a Pixelbook anymore
Well, that’s it. According to a new report, Google has disbanded its team that was working on its next Pixelbook, which means that its first-party ChromeOS hardware program is no more. It joins the growing list of products that the Mountain View company has killed off, playfully known by some as Killed By Google.
My reaction to the news was a resounding…meh. If I look back at products like 2019’s Pixelbook Go, am I really going to feel like I’m missing out if there isn’t a new one? Honestly, I think we’ll all be fine.
First-party hardware is overrated
I call it the Apple Effect. Apple is famous for owning its full stack of hardware and software, and whether you love the products or hate them, they’re pretty renowned. Naturally, when the maker of software starts making its own hardware, I think people expect that they’re going to get what Apple customers get. At the very least, they think they’ll get the best possible experience from that software.
That’s bad for everyone. It’s bad for customers to think they’re getting the best experience from a Pixelbook, and it’s even worse if that’s true.
Unlike Apple’s ecosystem, ChromeOS is open, where anyone can make a Chromebook. It’s similar to how Windows has worked for decades. And just like with Windows, there are tons of OEMs around the world that make Chromebooks. A lot of these companies have been making laptops for decades. In such an open environment, it doesn’t make any sense that Google’s Pixelbook should be any better than what other companies are providing.
At this point, I’ll draw your attention to the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook. This laptop weighs in at just 2.8 pounds, it has a 3:2 display, it has optional 4G LTE, it packs Intel’s 12th-gen U-series processors up to a Core i7, there’s Thunderbolt 4 connectivity, and it offers the first haptic touchpad in a Chromebook, all in a sleek Dragonfly Blue chassis. If I want the best experience in a Chromebook, I’d look more toward that.
Then there’s the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5. It’s a 13.3-inch tablet with an OLED display that comes in a two-tone Abyss Blue color, all for $499. It’s pretty sweet, and it’s the best tablet on our best Chromebooks list. There’s also a smaller model if 13.3 inches is too big of a tablet for you.
Samsung does good work too, whether its with its 4K OLED Galaxy Chromebook or the QLED Galaxy Chromebook 2. When you start to look at the ChromeOS ecosystem and the wide variety of devices available, my question would be, what are you lacking that Google could solve with a new Pixelbook?
And like I said, just the perception that first-party hardware is better is problematic. If Google is somehow supporting its own Chromebooks in a way that it’s not supporting other devices, then the answer should be to better support third-party devices. It’s that simple.
Google Pixelbook made more sense in 2013
Everybody loves the Pixel, right? You know what I mean, the Chromebook Pixel of course. Before Pixel, Phone by Google was ever a thing, it was the brand for the company’s in-house Chromebooks. In February 2013, the first Chromebook Pixel was announced with a third-generation Intel Core i5 and a 12.85-inch 3:2 display. It had a starting price of $1,299 despite only packing 4GB DDR3 RAM and a 32GB SSD.
Back then, the goal was very much the same as it was with Microsoft’s newly-minted Surface lineup. It was to show OEMs what was possible. In 2013, the idea of a $1,300 Chromebook was absurd, but with a proper Intel Core processor and a 2,560×1,700 display (Google actually beat Microsoft to the 3:2 craze), it was actually premium in a world where ChromeOS was seen as a way to get a low-end laptop with decent performance for dirt cheap.
The next Chromebook Pixel arrived in 2015 with fifth-gen Intel processors and 8GB RAM. That was followed by the Pixelbook in 2017, which added seventh-gen processors up to a Core i7, up to 16GB RAM, and up to a 512GB SSD. 2018 saw the launch of the Pixel Slate, a tablet that Google announced it would never refresh. And then in 2019, we got the Pixelbook Go, which was designed to be more mainstream than previous Chromebook Pixel laptops.
But as the Pixelbook line progressed, so did the rest of the market. We started to see premium Chromebooks, as outlined above. Companies like HP, Dell, Lenovo, and more started making ChromeOS devices that were aimed at businesses too. This market is mature now, and it’s no longer craving an entry like Google produced back in 2013.
It’s different with phones…and watches
Obviously, Google will continue on with its Pixel phones, and it has a Pixel Watch that will launch next month alongside the Pixel 7. That’s different though. Here in the United States, there are really only four high-end smartphone brands: Apple, Samsung, Google, and OnePlus. You can add Motorola into the mix, but Moto has some work to do on the premium side. If you take Google out of the mix, you’re only left with Samsung and OnePlus on the Android side, and if you want great smartphone photography, then it’s just Samsung. With the smartphone market, Google is giving you choice that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
It’s also giving you that Pixel experience, which is pretty much as close as it gets to stock Android. Phones have different software experiences, and that’s not the case with laptops. When we talk about Chromebooks, it’s purely a hardware conversation.
And let’s not forget about the Pixel Watch. The Wear OS market is pretty stale, and it’s been that way for a while. Samsung is the only one making mainstream watches with the latest version of Wear OS, and Google needs a hero product for wearables. It makes sense, and the Pixel Watch will aim to legitimize the category, hopefully sparking other OEMs so make smartwatches as well.
Personally, I love the ecosystems created by products like ChromeOS and Windows precisely because there’s this wide variety of companies that are making such a wide variety of products. There’s truly something for everyone. Google might get all of the headlines, but I don’t need some first-party hero product to show off what ChromeOS can do. Show me the HP Chromebook x11 Tablet, or Dell’s Latitude 7410 Chromebook. That stuff is way more interesting to me.