I don't expect Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chromebook Pixel to sell particularly well. I'm of the camp that Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) OS and ecosystem are far too entrenched in the PC space for Google's Chromebook line to really make a dent at the high end. Sure, the low end Chromebooks are selling like hotcakes; they're cheap and "good enough" for what most people are probably buying them for (secondary systems), but paying $1,300 for a Chromebook that won't run the wide variety of applications available on the Windows platform seems a little bit of a stretch. It'll be a niche product that gets Google some spotlight, but until the Chrome OS is more firmly entrenched in the computing landscape (and the low end Chromebooks are the way to do this), a high end Chromebook is perhaps the right device at the very wrong time.
That being said, Google's management has historically shown itself to be very capable of doing things the "right" way. In particular, the newly announced Chromebook Pixel does a lot of things just so right that the PC vendors keep getting wrong generation after generation that I'm almost sad that this new Chromebook likely won't be a particularly big commercial hit. However, putting away my inner geek's emotional state and putting on my industry observer cap, I want to just show everyone just why Google clearly "gets" it, but the majority of the Windows PC space doesn't.
The Screen: It's What Users Look At
The PC industry's screen selection represents quite a sad state of affairs. Today, I can go buy a $499 Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad 4 with a 2048x1536 display that will have a better display than any notebook PC on the planet. Heck, Google's Nexus 10 tablet sports a pretty nice 2560x1600 display (although the quality of the Google display isn't quite there with the Apple). But what about the typical PC? Or, let's do one better -- let's look at the Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) sanctioned Ultrabooks (which are supposed to bring back the excitement to the PC). A quick trip to Newegg.com gave me the following options for displays on Ultrabooks:
Do you see the problem? The majority of these devices sport a crap 1366x768 display with awful contrast, terrible brightness, and questionable colors. A few have solid screens like the Lenovo (OTCPK:LNVGY) Yoga (but are stuck in 1600x900 land), and then fewer still have truly quality 1920x1080 screens. Oh, and nothing above 1920x1080.
So, why is it that I can buy tablets with better screens than what I can get on an Ultrabook? Well, a big part of it is that these notebooks sport much more RAM, storage space, and processing power than their tablet brethren, so less of the BOM costs can be allocated to the display. Further, the displays on notebooks are simply bigger, so the raw materials cost is likely much higher.
But see, that's not my problem. By all means, offer lower end products at a lower price point; not everyone can afford to drop $2,000 on a top-notch, no-compromises notebook. The problem is that there is precisely zero ultra-high-end display representation in the Windows PC space. This blatant omission further fuels the perception that Windows PCs are "cheap" and for those who "can't afford a Mac".
Let's Fix The PC, Guys
It's time to fix the PC. Microsoft did a commendable job with its "Surface Pro", as most reviews point out that it has a gorgeous, well-calibrated display (and for a 10.6" device, 1920x1080 is plenty of pixels per inch), but there are a few nagging limitations that keep it from being a general purpose laptop replacement at this point. Lenovo's doing a good job, too, with its "Yoga" and upcoming "Helix" lines, although I'm quite frankly surprised that the company hasn't put out a super high resolution display laptop just for bragging rights. I would like to specifically praise Acer for releasing its "S7" line of laptops; they're expensive, but for the limited time that I had to play with one, I couldn't help but be blown away by the screen quality. The only problem is that it's $1,600. Dang.
But really, the PC industry will start to grow again if the PC vendors get their acts together and start making compelling devices. Intel's "Haswell" should enable some nice new form factors and significantly improve battery life (a big tablet advantage), but beyond that there needs to be a focus on build quality (ala Apple and apparently Google), as well as ease of usability (please stop cluttering the PC with useless pre-loaded applications).
I think the PC/hybrid categories can be truly exciting, but the OEMs need to put out devices that people truly want. Google's got the right idea with the Chromebook Pixel, but the Chrome OS immediately strips the value proposition. Could someone in the Windows camp please get it right? Apple and Google have already illuminated the path, but the PC vendors need to be gutsy enough to walk it.
Disclosure: I am long INTC, MSFT. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.