Google’s Next Pixelbook Chromebook Is Canceled

Google has canceled the next version of its Pixelbook laptop and disbanded the team responsible for building it. The device was far into development and expected to debut next year, according to a person familiar with the matter, but the project was cut as part of recent cost-cutting measures at Google. Team members have been transferred elsewhere within the company.

As recently as a few months ago, Google planned to keep the Pixelbook going. Ahead of its annual I/O Developer Conference, Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh told The rod that “we are going to make Pixelbooks in the future. “. But he also acknowledged that the Chromebook market has changed since 2017, when the original (and best) Pixelbook launched. “The good thing about the category is that it’s matured,” Osterloh said. “You can expect them to last a long time. One way Google might think about the ChromeOS market is that it just doesn’t need Google like it once did.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, has been saying for months that he intended to slow hiring and scale back some projects at the company. “In some cases, that means consolidating where investments overlap and streamlining processes,” he wrote in a July memo. “In other cases, it means pausing development and redeploying resources to higher priority areas. The Pixelbook team and the Pixelbook itself have fallen victim to this consolidation and redeployment.

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“Google does not share future product plans or personnel information; However, we are committed to building and supporting a portfolio of innovative and useful Google products for our users,” said Laura Breen, Chief Communications Officer at Google. The rod. “As far as our employees are concerned, at a time when our priorities are shifting, we are working on transitioning team members between devices and services. »

Google’s hardware strategy, especially with Pixel devices, has been both to make good products and to try to show other manufacturers how to do the same. He started investing in Pixel phones as a way to show what Google’s vision for Android might look like. More recently, the company has re-engaged in smartwatch manufacturing, with the Pixel Watch coming in a few weeks, and building an Android tablet due to ship next year. These last two devices exist in categories where most Android devices have failed. Google is trying to convince developers, manufacturers, and customers that they can be good.

Similarly, 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 too far, putting ChromeOS – an operating system that then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt said would be featured on “completely disposable” hardware. – on a gorgeous device with a price tag of $1,300. Google never intended Chromebook hardware to matter, but hardware does, and so Google created the best hardware. Still, the Pixel and later Pixelbook models were niche devices with high prices, and while Google didn’t split its Chromebook sales, it was clearly too expensive to make any real noise in the broader laptop market.

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

In 2017, when Google launched the Pixelbook, the case for ChromeOS had changed somewhat. It wasn’t just a nice, useful laptop anymore — it was also a convertible, flip-top device that could be used as a tablet. Google even built a stylus, called the Pixelbook Pen, to go along with the device. The Pixelbook was Google’s attempt to battle the iPad and MacBook Air into a single 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 all of Google’s computing vision in one body. (It also had one of the best laptop keyboards ever.)

Since that device, Google has mostly failed to recapture what made the Pixelbook great. It continued to hunt and chrome OS-ize anything that looked like the future of computing: First, there was the disastrous Pixel Slate, a tablet with an attachable keyboard that looked a lot like the Microsoft Surface. Then there was the Pixelbook Go, a smaller and slightly cheaper version of the Pixelbook that, at the time it launched in 2019, it just couldn’t keep up with the competition. “Comparable Chromebooks cost at least a hundred dollars less for similar features” The rodDieter Bohn writes in his review of the device. “So with the Pixelbook Go, what are you paying for? »

In 2019, a weird thing happened: Chromebooks were good! Acer, Asus and others had started investing in non-disposable hardware for their ChromeOS devices. Lenovo had a Chromebook Yoga, and Dell and HP were starting to sell Chromebooks in a wide range of price points and specs. Chromebooks had gone from “crappy but cheap option” to a real alternative to Windows. And most of those options were also significantly cheaper than any 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 very much a consumer computing product now. There are good Chromebooks available in all shapes and sizes: you can buy Chromebooks that flip over, Chromebooks that fold, Chromebooks that pop out, Chromebooks with ThinkPad-style trackpoints. Even the high-end market has become competitive, with devices like the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 and Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 bringing some of Google’s design prowess to the space.

In the early days of the pandemic, when students had to attend school at home, Chromebooks exploded. ChromeOS devices have surpassed Apple’s Macs for the first time, according to data from analytics firm IDC. And Canalys said Chromebooks grew 275% between the first quarter of 2020 and the same period in 2021. But as the PC market slowed after a huge early pandemic surge, ChromeOS fell more than most: research firm Gartner predicted that Chromebooks will be down 30% in 2022.

An Acer Chromebook Spin 714, open in stand mode, on a dark wood 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 shipped its own new laptop in almost three years, although the Pixelbook Go is still for sale in the company’s store. Over the past few months, some have speculated that Google’s Tensor chip could be a reason for the company to reinvest in the space, looking for ways to bring its AI prowess to ChromeOS and laptops — and fix Android compatibility issue once and for all.

Going forward, it’s clear the company is focusing where it thinks the Android ecosystem needs it: smartwatches and tablets. It’s also possible that after years of trying to create luxurious, cutting-edge Chromebooks, the company has realized that schools and students are likely to continue to be ChromeOS’ best customers and those customers will never pay the prices. from Google.

To be fair, though, Google has a long history of scrapping projects before finally deciding to try them again – smartwatches and even Google Glass all come to mind, and remember three years ago when Google said it was exiting the tablet business to focus solely on laptops? So Google could one day decide that it needs to help revive the Chromebook market. But for now, the ChromeOS market is strong and Google is no longer trying to push it forward.

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