Chromebook could free Google from Microsoft and Apple

google chromebook pixel
Google's first laptop, the ChromeBook Pixel, makes sense for almost nobody, but that doesn't mean we should ignore it.

Of all the big moves and announcements Google will make in 2013, the most intriguing won't be related to Android, Glass, search or Gmail.

That honor was already claimed in February when Google (GOOG) released the Chromebook Pixel laptop with the latest version of Google's Web-only Chrome OS software. It was designed to eventually get Google out from under Apple and Microsoft's thumbs.

Much of Google's business strategy is easy to figure out: Search is Google's money maker, Android is its pipeline to mobile, and Glass is the great experiment for the future. But figuring out the significance of a $1,400 laptop that runs an operating system built on top of a Web browser can be confusing.

ChromeBook laptops have never been the focal point of the company by any means, but consistent updates and major retail support made evident that they would become more than low-grade tools intended for grandparents and their chain emails.

The release of the Chromebook Pixel put an exclamation point on that sentiment. It isn't just another $400 plastic Chromebook laptop stuffed with last year's guts. It is a premium piece of gear that was very well thought out and constructed as well as any other laptop on the market.

Still, you shouldn't rush out and buy it. The $1,400 price tag is far too much to ask for a Chrome OS device right now, and the masses were right in pointing out that 99% of the population who could shell out that amount of money should probably just buy a high-end Windows PC or a Mac.

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So what's the point?

Investing in its own brand of high-end PCs is a smart move for Google: With every tech company building walls around their products and services enough to make Constantine proud, it would be foolhardy for Google to rely on Windows and Mac OS X to serve as a management hub for the rest of its products and services. Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL) are very much focused on emphasizing the strengths of their own goods -- and not those of a competing third party.

Google probably built the Chromebook Pixel to prove that with the right hardware, a Web browser can come amazingly close to offering the same experience as any other laptop running a full-blown operating system.

If that's the case, then Google would be right. The Chromebook Pixel does at times rival other MacBooks and top-of-the-line Ultrabooks. So much of what we do with a traditional computer takes place in the browser.

Making the move to the ChromeBook Pixel can be limiting, but it's never alienating. With each passing year, it seems as though the average computer user needs less and less of the native software support that an conventional operating system affords.

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And now that Android and Chrome have been joined under the same roof at Google, it's not hard to imagine Google one day producing dual-mode tablet that, when docked to a keyboard and monitor, seamlessly shifts over from Android to Chrome OS.

It's a good bet that's why Google put so much effort into building the Chromebook Pixel, and why we'll be hearing a lot more about this kind of technology in the next two to three years.

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