A Pixelbook with Tensor inside never actually made any sense

On my list of articles to write eventually, I left a note about how I would one day create a hopeful post about what the Tensor-powered Pixelbook of my dreams would look like. Over and over I considered writing it, but always stumbled upon a key point in Google-made Pixelbook and Chromebook history that made me feel unsure it would ever happen.

With Google now full throttle in the SoC game with Tensor, it wouldn’t make sense for them to build an in-house Chromebook with anything else under the hood. Seriously, can you imagine how awkward it would be to launch a new Pixelbook with an Intel, Qualcomm, or MediaTek chip at this point? It would be weird, right? But, if you look at it with an objective lens, it wouldn’t make any sense for them to build one with Tensor inside either. Let me explain.

What Chromebooks made by Google were made for

To understand this point, it’s first imperative that you understand why Google’s own Chromebooks existed in the first place. Along the way, devices like the Chromebook Pixel, Pixelbook, and Pixel Slate appeared at a time when the ChromeOS market as a whole needed a push in a particular direction.

Early on, Chromebook Pixels showed manufacturers what a premium Chromebook could look like. The Pixelbook gave Chromebook makers a model of the slim, portable 2-in-1 convertibles we see all the time these days. The Pixel Slate was a showcase for the move to tablet-optimized software for Chromebooks and the Pixelbook Go was a shining example of what fine craftsmanship without every high-end component thrown into the mix can deliver in a Chromebook.

They all served their purpose and I would say they all achieved the goals set by Google’s ChromeOS team. Granted, they became a bit iconic and desirable in the process, and in a market where Google chooses to partner deeply with OEMs for Chromebook launches, that can easily become a problem. After all, Google isn’t trying to compete in this space like it is in the world of Pixel smartphones. Instead, with Chromebooks, they are trying to lead, innovate, and shine the light to move the market forward.

Tensor is the only hardware change Google could make

So here in 2022, how exactly would Google move the needle with a new Pixelbook? What remains to be introduced, changed or diverted? Just like smartphones, I think laptops have come a long way and we are now at the point where iteration trumps innovation. Seriously, what would you add to the Chromebook mix at this point from a hardware standpoint? Aside from better versions of existing components, what’s left to add or subtract from the equation?

And if we can’t find good answers to those questions, what do we expect Google to do with a new Pixelbook? If competing with HP, ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, Samsung and Dell is not preferable and there is nothing new that manufacturers are encouraged to do, what else could Google do with a different new Pixelbook and a big change in this ecosystem?

Tensor. That’s it Much like Apple has done with their internal M1 and M2 processors in Macbooks, we all looked at each other and thought it would be a great idea if Google made their own Chromebook with Tensor inside, giving them complete vertical integration between hardware, software, and the internal SoC. . It all makes perfect sense, right? If Google is serious about Tensor and serious about ChromeOS, it really seemed like this was the only way to go and we were all pretty excited to see it work with a new Pixelbook.

A problem with that line of thought.

But there is a problem with that line of thinking. that I hadn’t considered before this week, and this particular conundrum now has me thinking that unless a few things change, we may never see a Tensor-powered Pixelbook.

First, we must assume that Google has no plans to share its internal SoC with other Chromebook manufacturers. They could choose to do so, but with the recent revelation that the next Pixel tablets will run on the phone version of Tensor (not a new tablet-only version), the idea of tensioner throughout doesn’t exactly feel realistic right now. We really feel like there would eventually be a desktop Tensor chip, a watch-sized Tensor chip, a phone Tensor chip, and maybe even a smart home Tensor at some point. At this time, that is not the case.

Now that we know there isn’t a specific Tensor for tablets and the desktop Tensor we thought we’d see in the next Pixelbook clearly isn’t a thing either, I bet we’ll see Tensor as just a Pixel phone for a while. I could be wrong on that front, but the evidence is in my favor on this point, and that means instead of a lot of Tensor all over the place, I could stay in one lane, the Pixel phone lane, going forward. foreseeable.

That fact alone gives me a lot more confidence that Google isn’t gearing up to make Tensor a shareable SoC with other manufacturers, and that means Tensor becomes a divisive, not a unifying, force in the Chromebook market.

Google doesn’t want to compete with Chromebook OEMs

If a new Pixelbook came out with Tensor inside as the main new feature, that would put Google in direct competition with other OEMs. Picture it for a second: Google shows up and makes a big fuss about a new Pixelbook with superior build quality and the first laptop-ready Tensor SoC inside. It’s integrated and fast and the best ChromeOS experience yet: and Google is the only one that can do it.

You see where this is headed, right? That kind of siled thinking works for companies like Apple that don’t share their hardware or software with other companies, but it’s been a bit tricky for OEMs making Windows laptops. With Microsoft now making their own top-tier hardware, they’re in direct competition with their partner OEMs, and by the looks of it, a lot of those OEMs aren’t huge fans of this.

At this stage of the Chromebook game, Google has no intention of going this route. A brilliantly built Pixelbook that only exists to show off Tensor would be spitting in the face of the very OEMs that Google actually considers partners. In an environment where Google is trying to foster growth and light the way for OEMs to make truly great hardware for its desktop OS, it wouldn’t make any sense for Google to step on all those toes with a new Pixelbook just created to promote the Tensor. SoC

Why the Pixelbook could eventually make a comeback

Does that mean we’ll never see a Pixelbook again? I do not think. After all, they just redeployed the Pixelbook team to other places in the organization, so when it’s time for a new Pixelbook, they can get the gang back together and get to work. It just turns out that the time isn’t now, and Tensor isn’t the right reason for a new Google Chromebook of your own.

Instead, I think the time will come for the next Pixelbook when new and untested hardware needs to be re-explored. We’re not there right now, but I could see a future where something like a Pixelbook Fold becomes a thing. Sure, big, foldable laptops are in short supply and priced out of most people’s budgets at the moment, but that won’t be the case forever.

In a few years, a folding laptop like the new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 it will be thinner, lighter and much more reasonably priced as the technology becomes more standardized. In that future, I could see a Chromebook with this kind of functionality being sought after, at which point a Pixelbook would be needed to light the way once again.

But an example like this is a hardware move that all OEMs can replicate. Google highlighted convertible Chromebooks, ink experiences, detachable keyboards, 3:2 screens, glass trackpads, and excellent build quality with previous Pixelbook hardware, but those are all hardware properties that other OEMs can realistically aspire to and build on. A custom in-house SoC like Tensor is not that at all. Instead, it’s anti-competitive and something very alien to Google in the world of ChromeOS.

Which is why, as much as I’d like to see it, a Tensor-powered Pixelbook just doesn’t make any sense right now. If Google’s strategy around Chromebooks, OEMs, partnerships, and Pixelbook hardware changes in the future, this discussion will need to be revisited. Just like they did after years of the Nexus program, Google could become a real player in the Chromebook market. For now, though, they’re not that, and that’s precisely why I think a Tensor-powered Pixelbook never really made any sense. However, it is a shame. It would have been excellent, I think.

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