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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Google Introduces a Touchscreen Laptop

Google is stepping further into the laptop business, and moving way up the price scale.

The company introduced the Pixel on Thursday, a new version of its Chromebook laptops that store everything online without desktop software. The latest version has a few major distinguishing factors. Google designed and manufactured the laptop itself, and it has a touchscreen.

It is also much more expensive than previous Google Chromebooks. A Wi-Fi model selling for $1,300 will begin shipping next week, and a model equipped with an LTE cellular network selling for $1,450 will ship in April. By contrast, the Chromebook that Google introduced last fall cost cost $250, and was marketed as an inexpensive, extra device for the home.

The Pixel, meanwhile, is for power users, said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for Chrome, at a press event in a San Francisco design studio.

Translation: Google is going directly after Apple and Microsoft to try to sell its own high-end devices.

The question is whether customers will buy a laptop at this price from an untested manufacturer, especially when it requires people to do all their computing in the cloud. There are a host of competitively priced computers on the market with similar and additional features. Analysts say that i! n the near future, most laptops will have touchscreens.

“For people who have committed to the cloud and really want a good laptop, this is the best laptop from a hardware standpoint,” Mr. Pichai said. “Some of them buy Macs, some of them buy Windows 8 machines and we wanted to make sure you could see Chromebooks in that segment.”

Mr. Pichai said that Google’s engineers paid obsessive attention to the laptop’s design. Its touchscreen is brighter, taller and higher resolution than most laptops, though it also drains the battery more quickly. The keyboard responds differently based on how hard or soft you type.

Then there are little things â€" the screws are hidden, there is a microphone under the keyboard so the computer can mute your typing when you are on a video chat and the base of the computer stays put when you lift open the top.

The new Chromebook is a big step in Google’s transition to hardware company. It acquired Motorola Mobility and has teamed up with other maufacturers to build previous Chromebooks and Android Nexus devices. It has already built the ill-fated Nexus Q home entertainment device and Google glasses.

“It’s been a long time in computing since we’ve had this rate of change, it probably hasn’t happened since the birth of personal computing,” Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, told analysts in January. “That’s why we’ve put so much focus on devices.”

When people use Google devices, the thinking goes, they are more likely to use Google’s other products â€" like search, docs and photo-sharing â€" and see more ads.

Chromebooks can store a small amount of data, like a file someone sends you to download. But the idea is that users will do their computing in the cloud. In! stead of ! using Microsoft Word or Outlook, for instance, people use Google Docs or Gmail. That offers immediate backup and the ability to access digital files from any Internet-connected computer.

“Even people like my mom and dad live in the cloud, they just don’t know what the cloud is,” Mr. Pichai said.

The problem is that few people are ready to live entirely in the cloud, and even many of those who are ready cannot do so because applications like Word are such a big part of their computing lives.

Google added a few features to make that easier with the Pixel. If a user plugs in a camera’s memory card, the photos upload to Google Plus and the user can share them with a click. With the help of Quickoffice, a start-up Google acquired last year, a way to seamlessly open, edit and send Word or Excel files was created on the Chromebook.

<>These features are an acknowledgement that Google Docs is nowhere close to taking on Microsoft Office.

“All of us deal with Word files, Excel files,” Mr. Pichai said. “It’s here to stay.”

To help people make the cloud transition, Google is offering one terabyte of Google Drive storage for three years with the Pixel. That amount of storage is worth $1,800. The more expensive model of the Pixel can also tap into Verizon‘s cellular network when there is no WiFi available. The cellular model will not require a subscription to a monthly data plan. Instead, users will have various options for connecting to the cellular network, like buying access for a day or adding their device to their monthly Verizon plans.

Mr. Pichai admitted that the lines are blurring between Google’s two op! erating s! ystems â€" Chrome, used on the company’s laptops, and Android, typically used for touchscreen phones and tablets. He said that did not matter because users of either operating system used the same Google services.

The Pixel, which is made in Taiwan, will be sold at Best Buy and online at the Google Play store.