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Google Inc (GOOG) Copies Apple Inc (AAPL) in More Ways Than One

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There’s no denying it: Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is copying Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL) with its new Chromebook Pixel.

There is an abundance of subtle nods in Cupertino’s general direction that evidence the company’s admiration. Everything from the industrial design to the excessive use of marketing hyperbole to the simple fact that the laptop is crafted out of anodized aluminum and features a super high-resolution display. The Chromebook Pixel is also competitively aimed squarely at the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display.

13-inch MacBook with Retina display (left) vs. Chromebook Pixel (right). Sources: Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG). Images not shown to scale.

Does the search giant’s big push into premium PC hardware have a shot at success?

A long shot
One thing that the Chromebook Pixel has that Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL) doesn’t is a touchscreen display. That’s potentially a differentiator for users that want to get a little more touchy-feely with their laptops.

First, let’s compare the two laptops in specs and pricing.

Specification 13-Inch Retina MacBook Pro Chromebook Pixel
Display size 13.3-inch 12.85-inch
Resolution 2,560 x 1,600 2,560 x 1,700
Pixel density 227 pixels per inch 239 pixels per inch
Touchscreen? No Yes
Cellular? No LTE on 64 GB model
Processor 2.5 GHz Core i5 / 2.6 GHz Core i5 1.8 GHz Core i5
Operating system OS X Chrome OS
Storage 128 GB / 256 GB 32 GB / 64 GB
Price $1,499 / $1,699 $1,299 / $1,449

Sources: Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG). Standard configurations shown on MacBook Pro.

The Chromebook Pixel undercuts the Retina MacBook Pro by a couple hundred dollars on both the standard and high-end configurations, while offering certain perks like touchscreen capabilities and 4G LTE connectivity on Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ)‘s network. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) was even able to finagle a monthly allowance of 100 MB of data for two years included in the purchase price.

Those advantages aside, the Chromebook Pixel still has the odds stacked against it. Here’s why.

An even tougher sell
The Chrome OS itself is little more than a web browser, which is one way that Chromebooks are such lightweight devices that can boot extremely quickly. The first time that Google launched a Chromebook, it was Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook that retailed for $450. That laptop was quickly derided as an expensive web browser that couldn’t compete at that price point with full-featured Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) laptops that cost the same.

For example, here are some telling excerpts from CNET’s review of the Series 5 Chromebook:

  • “If the Chromebook were $99, this could have been a revolutionary product. As it currently stands, it’s merely an invitation to pay a lot of money to be part of a Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) experiment. And you’re the test subject.”
  • “I applaud Chrome OS and its simplicity, but if you want a taste of it, here’s my advice on how to get it for free: download the Chrome browser on your computer, and then install your choice of apps from the Chrome Web Store. There, you’re done.”
  • “There’s no good reason to buy a Chromebook at this price.”

In direct contrast, the most recent batch of Chromebooks are exactly what the CNET editor ordered. They were even lighter weight, were frequently built with cheaper components often found in other mobile devices, and were (and continue to be) available for price points from $199 to $330 from Acer, Samsung, and Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ). Google even smartly positioned them as secondary PCs. It was brilliant.

If the $450 price point is a tough sell for a laptop that’s exactly a netbook, how will a $1,299 laptop fare? The high-resolution touchscreen is undoubtedly impressive, but is that enough when the operating system itself is so bare bones?

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