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Google debuts touchscreen Chromebook in hardware push

Bloomberg/San Francisco 23 Feb 13 | 12:27 AM

Google Inc, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, debuted a touchscreen version of the Chromebook laptop, stepping up its challenge to Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc in computer hardware.

A Wi-Fi only version of the Pixel Chromebook went on sale in the US on Thursday for $1,299, Google said at an event in San Francisco.

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In April, the company plans to introduce a $1,449 version with access to so-called long-term evolution wireless networks, the fastest available.

Google, already leading in the market for smartphones with its Android software, is expanding in hardware to lure more users to its Web-based services with Chromebooks that rely on Internet applications instead of built-in software.

The company is taking a risk by pushing into the high end of a personal-computer market that’s been slammed by diminishing demand. Laptop purchases have tapered off as consumers and businesses increasingly favour smartphones and tablets.

“There’s a limited number of things you can do well with these types of machines," said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC. “The price is fairly high."

In June, Google unveiled a $199 touchscreen tablet, Nexus 7, to compete with Apple’s iPad as well as the Surface, a tablet introduced that month by Microsoft.

An older Chromebook made by Acer Inc costs $199, while some versions from Samsung Electronics Co and Hewlett-Packard Co cost more than $300.

Hardware forays

Google, based in Mountain View, California, has stumbled with some previous forays into hardware. The company’s Chrome laptops have been slow to gain traction with consumers, as have the Google TV set-top boxes and high-definition televisions.

“First it was the battle of hardware, then it was the battle of software, now it’s the battle of hardware, software, browsers and eyeballs," said Laurence Balter, an analyst at Oracle Investment Research.

The Pixel machine will be built by a manufacturer in Taiwan, Google said, without naming the company. It has 4.3 million pixels, more than twice as many as a typical high- definition television, and features a 12.85-inch screen, Google said. The device has a glass touchpad, and it runs Google’s Chrome operating system.

‘High End’

“Touch is here to stay and is the future," Sundar Pichai, senior vice president for Chrome, said at the event. “We wanted to design something which was very high end and premium for power users -- people who are very, very demanding of their laptops."

Best Buy Co. will sell the Pixel Chromebook on its website, as will Google.

The new Chromebook features an Intel Corp. chip to enhance speed and performance. The computers, which come with a free terabyte of storage for one year, are encased in an anodized aluminum alloy and come with three micophones that assist in noise cancellation. Google is betting high-end features will appeal to some discerning consumers, said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. (FORR)

“This sounds strategic," Gillett said. “This is a long- term bet that they can make this more interesting for people down the road."

The shares advanced less than 1 percent to $795.53 at the close in New York. The stock has gained 12 percent this year, compared with a 5.3 percent increase for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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