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Google May Have Pixel Chromebook Showcase, Tiny Home in the Works

Google appears to be planning a Pixel-branded Chromebook and a downsized version of its Home smart speaker, following in the steps of Microsoft and Amazon respectively.

Along with two expected new Pixel phones, Google this fall will unveil a Pixel-branded Chromebook and smaller, lower-priced version of its Home smart speaker, Android Police reported Monday, citing a source familiar with the company’s plans.

Chromebooks typically have been popular with budget-conscious schools and penny-pinching consumers, but the Pixel laptop may be setting it sights on a segment of the market that’s willing to spend more, the Android Police report suggests.

If so, it won’t be Google’s first effort to sell a premium Chromebook. It first introduced a Pixel Chromebook in 2013, and it offered an upgrade with a base model price of US$999 in 2015. Neither captured much market share.

If Google should decide to continue its Chromebook line, price could be a big factor in its success.

“Chromebooks have never sold as high-end notebooks,” said Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research.

“For them to try to do something in the premium area would be challenging,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That has never been a product category where Chromebooks have sold well.”

Benchmark for Others

Sales may be a secondary consideration for Google in the Chromebook market, though. Like Microsoft with its Surface tablet and laptop products, Google likely wants to show other Chromebook makers the platform’s potential.

“What they’re trying to do is establish a benchmark product that shows the market what the technology can do, and hope the other guys follow suit,” noted Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.

“I don’t think Google is going to play the low-end price game,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They’re going to try and show more capabilities and encourage OEMs to get more creative with their Chromebooks.”

The impetus behind a new Pixel Chromebook is the same as always, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“It allows Google to demonstrate just how robust and great a Chromebook can be,” he told TechNewsWorld.

A high-end Chromebook also could prove the value of the ChromeOS to Google’s partners by opening a premium market to them.

“Its partners have been reluctant to push the price opportunity for Chromebooks above $400,” said Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group.

“To be a viable alternative to Windows, Google has to offer its device partners a path to better revenue and profits with Chromebook,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“The Pixel Chromebook will be designed to help create a viable more premium market, which the partners want,” Baker said, but they “can’t take the financial risk that Google can in building it.”

Bison Spinoff?

Because the Pixel Chromebook likely will be a premium product, it won’t be stepping on the sales of existing Chromebook makers, said Rhoda Alexander, director of tablet and notebook research at IHS Markit.

“I don’t see this offering serious competition to their hardware partners,” she told TechNewsWorld. “It’s Google taking a leadership role, showing how things can be done, rather than a volume-hardware play.”

Although details were sparse, it seems likely the new Pixel Chromebook will spring from Project Bison, a Google project veiled in secrecy and originally scheduled for release in this year’s third quarter, the Android Police report suggested.

Bison was intended as a serious competitor to Apple’s MacBook and Microsoft’s Surface Pro, according to the report. It was to have a 12.3-inch screen, 32 or 128 gigabytes of storage, 8 or 16 gigabytes of RAM, and an optional Wacom stylus that would be sold separately.

“The biggest rumor about the Pixel Chromebook concerns Google integrating support for Android apps, which would be a large, significant step forward,” Pund-IT’s King said.

“It also seems possible that the company could add support for features tied to it’s Home devices or emerging technologies like Cardboard,” he added.

Home’s ‘Little Brother’

Google’s introduction of a “little brother” for its Home smart speaker is a much-expected move, said Brad Russell, a research analyst at Parks Associates.

“They need a low-cost entry point for consumers that aren’t already in the space,” he told TechNewsWorld.

One of the goals of these product lines is ubiquity in the home, Russell pointed out.

“The reason Amazon’s Dot has been so successful is not just because it’s cheap — it’s because you can afford to put one in every room if you choose to,” he said.

Offering a range of devices enhances a vendor’s prospects for appealing to a wider audience, noted Jonathan Collins, a research director at ABI Research.

While the idea is to expand the number of devices in the home, vendors’ ambitions reach beyond the devices.

“In the long term, each vendor wants to get their voice assistant platform in the smart home,” Collins told TechNewsWorld.

“These speakers have become a Trojan horse for the digital assistants,” said Technalysis’ O’Donnell.

“People are using these speakers to get access to personal assistants more than they’re even using them on their phones,” he said, “so if Google wants to have more people use Google Assistant, they have to sell more smart speakers.”

John P. Mello Jr.

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reportersince 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, theBoston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and GovernmentSecurity News. Email John.

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