How Google could have made the Chromebook Pixel viable

Like many products, the Chromebook Pixel was a rumour before it was a reality. Even those that believed the Pixel was a real product could never have imagined its true nature. Well, earlier this week the Pixel was officially unveiled with impressive specs, but a massive £1,049 price tag for the basic 32GB Wi-Fi-only model.

The price sounds high to start with, but also you have to bear in mind that this is not your average computer. Users already have to make compromises to use the cloud-centric Chrome OS, but is this really the way to sell them on the idea? Here’s how Google could have made the Pixel a viable product.

The choice to go with that 12.85in 2560 x 1700 display was bold, to put it kindly. It’s nice to see such a high resolution screen when most laptops still ship with 1366 x 768 panels. However, the 3:2 aspect ratio is bizarre. It makes the Pixel look like a computer from the era before everyone realised that widescreen made more sense. Watching video on this screen is going to mean staring at black bars. Google should have gone with a screen that was 16:9 or 16:10. By that same token, maybe sacrificing a little resolution to save on cost would have been wise.

Including touchscreen capabilities with the Pixel could have been a great move, but it’s largely wasted. Even with the changes made to Chrome OS, this isn’t really a touch-friendly environment. Android, on the other hand, is designed from the ground up to be touched. So why not allow the Pixel to run tablet-style Android apps in emulation mode? It would instantly make the device more appealing from a software perspective, and Android doesn’t need coddling anymore. Go all the way and make the Pixel a Google Play device.

If the existence of the Pixel tells us anything, it’s that the company is serious about making Chrome OS a real, bona fide thing. However, Mountain View needs to come to terms with the fact that many potential Chrome OS users still need more than Google’s online tools can offer. Google should have had a word with established software companies like Adobe before refreshing Chrome OS.

Photoshop Lite

Why Adobe? Photo editing is something regular humans do, and Google’s online tools are very poor compared to real desktop applications. A smart move would be to partner with Adobe to get a lightweight version of Photoshop built into the Pixel – maybe even as an exclusive web app. It wouldn’t have to be to the level of CS6, but something approaching Photoshop Elements could have made the Pixel more viable.

Google already bends over backward to sell consumers a £159 tablet and £239 smartphone. These low prices help to promote Android devices, and Chrome OS is in much more desperate need of help than Android. Why commit to such an outrageous price without even introducing a middle tier? Tossing a Chromebook costing over a grand out the door just confuses everyone about what a Chromebook is supposed to be. Chrome OS only makes sense on inexpensive machines for light computing.

Unless Google changes something, the Pixel is doomed to be the Nexus Q of 2013. The handful of things this device will do well are far outweighed by the high price and software compromises.

For more on Google’s new laptop, see our Google Chromebook Pixel hands-on preview.