Monday, September 25, 2023

Google’s next Pixelbook Chromebook has been canceled

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Google has canceled the next version of its Pixelbook laptop and disbanded the team responsible for building it. The device was well under development and was expected to debut next year, according to a person familiar with the matter, but the project was halted as part of recent cost-cutting measures within Google. Members of the team have been relocated elsewhere within the company.

Just a few months ago, Google planned to keep the Pixelbook going. Ahead of the annual I/O developer conference, Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh said: The edge that “we’ll be making Pixelbooks in the future.” But he also acknowledged that the Chromebook market has changed since 2017, when the original (and best) Pixelbook was launched. “The great thing about the category is that it has matured,” Osterloh says. “You can expect them to last a long time.” One way Google thinks about the ChromeOS market is that it just doesn’t need Google anymore like it once did.

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, has said for months that he plans to delay hiring and halt some projects within the company. “In some cases, that means consolidating where investments overlap and streamlining processes,” he wrote in a July memo. “In other cases, that means interrupting development and redeploying resources to higher-priority areas.” The Pixelbook team and the Pixelbook itself were victims of that consolidation and reshuffle.

“Google does not share future product plans or personnel information; however, we are committed to building and supporting a portfolio of Google products that are innovative and useful to our users,” said Laura Breen, communications manager at Google. The edge. “With regard to our people, in times when we are shifting priorities, we are working to transition team members across devices and services.”

Google’s hardware strategy, particularly with the Pixel devices, was both to make good products and to show other manufacturers how to do the same. It started investing in Pixel phones as a way to showcase what Google’s take on Android might look like. More recently, the company has been making smartwatches again, with the Pixel Watch due out in a few weeks, and building an Android tablet that will hit the market next year. Both of the latter devices exist in categories where most Android devices have failed. Google tries to convince developers, manufacturers and customers that they can be good.

In a similar fashion, Google spent nearly a decade trying to prove to the world that a high-end Chromebook was a good idea. With the first Chromebook Pixel in 2013, it deliberately went over the top, leaving ChromeOS — an operating system Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt had said would be used on “entirely disposable” hardware — on a beautiful device with a $1,300 price tag. posted. Google never meant that the Chromebook’s hardware matters, but the hardware does matter, which is why Google made the best hardware. Still, the Pixel and later Pixelbook models were high-priced niche devices, and while Google didn’t break its Chromebook sales, it was clearly too expensive to make any real noise in the wider laptop market.

Google’s original Pixelbook was meant to show off all the things a Chromebook could do.
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

In 2017, when Google launched the Pixelbook, things had changed slightly for ChromeOS. It was no longer just a nice, handy laptop – it was also a convertible, foldable device that could be used as a tablet. Google even built a stylus called the Pixelbook Pen to accompany the device. The Pixelbook was Google’s attempt to combat the iPad and the MacBook Air in one product. It had Google Assistant built in, it could connect to a Pixel phone and use its data, and it could run Android apps. It was Google’s entire computer vision in one body. (It also had one of the best laptop keyboards of all time.)

Since that device, Google has largely failed to recapture what made the Pixelbook great. It continued to chase and Chrome OS everything that looked like the future of computing: First, there was the disastrous Pixel Slate, a tablet with an attachable keyboard that looked very much like the Microsoft Surface. Then there was the Pixelbook Go, a smaller and slightly cheaper version of the Pixelbook that just couldn’t keep up with the competition by the time it launched in 2019. “Comparable Chromebooks cost at least $100 less for comparable features,” The edge‘s Dieter Bohn wrote in his review of the device. “So with the Pixelbook Go, what are you paying for?”

In 2019, something strange had happened: Chromebooks were good! Acer, Asus and others had started investing in non-disposable hardware for their ChromeOS devices. Lenovo had a Yoga Chromebook, and Dell and HP began selling Chromebooks at a wide range of prices and specifications. Chromebooks had gone from “the crappy but cheap option” to a true alternative to Windows. And most of those options were also significantly cheaper than all of Google’s Pixelbooks.

The devices have been particularly successful in education, but as Brian Lynch, an analyst at research firm Canalys, said last year, “Chromebooks are really a mainstream computing product now.” There are good Chromebooks available in all forms: you can buy Chromebooks that can be flipped, Chromebooks that can be folded, Chromebooks that can be unplugged, Chromebooks with ThinkPad-style trackpoints. Even the high-end market has become competitive, with devices like the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 and the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 bringing some of Google’s design prowess to space.

In the early days of the pandemic, when students had to go to school from home, Chromebooks were booming. ChromeOS devices Apple’s Macs surpassed for the first time, according to data from analysis agency IDC. And Canalys said so Chromebooks grew 275 percent between the first quarter of 2020 and the same period in 2021. But as the PC market has slowed after a massive early pandemic boost, ChromeOS has fallen more than most: research firm Gartner predicted that Chromebooks a full 30 percent down in 2022.

An Acer Chromebook Spin 714, opened in portrait mode, on a dark wooden table.

Acer and other PC makers have stepped up their Chromebook game in recent years.
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

Meanwhile, Google hasn’t released a new laptop in nearly three years, although the Pixelbook Go Is still for sale in the company’s store. In the past months, some have speculated that Google’s Tensor chip could be a reason for the company to re-invest in the space, looking for ways to bring its AI capabilities to ChromeOS and laptops – and to solve the Android compatibility problem once and for all. to solve.

Going forward, it’s clear that the company is targeting where it thinks the Android ecosystem needs it: smartwatches and tablets. It’s also possible that after years of trying to create luxurious, high-end Chromebooks, the company may realize that schools and students will likely remain the best ChromeOS customers, and those customers will never pay Google’s prices.

To be fair, though, Google has a long history of giving up on projects before finally deciding to try them again — smartwatches and even Google Glass all come to mind, remembering three years ago when Google said it was getting out of the tablet business. came to focus solely on laptops? — so Google may one day decide it needs to help the Chromebook market again. But for now, the ChromeOS market is strong, and Google is no longer trying to push it forward.

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