Google Tests the Joke That People Now Think Screens Are Broken If You Can't Touch Them

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A look at Google's new laptop, the Chromebook Pixel, unveiled today at an event today in San Francisco

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It's a cliche at this point: give a kid a screen that's not touch sensitive and she'll think it's broken. Mobile-first children are used to phones and tablets that respond to their fingertips. They assume that user interface. Adults, too, at ATMs across the nation. This change in our expectations is one of the anecdotes we use to prove to ourselves that change is happening really fast. "When I was a kid, we didn't even have cellphones and now kids think a computer *is* a cell phone!"

Google is taking this funny fact of modern life seriously. They unveiled a new laptop, the Chromebook Pixel, at an event today in San Francisco. Its key feature is a beautiful, ultra high resolution screen that's touch sensitive. (To be clear: you can navigate via the standard keyboard and touchpad, or by touching the screen.)

So far, a couple hours in to thinking about and using the Pixel, I have a few thoughts: 

1) The design is pretty, but boxy. Pick it up and it feels really solid. Coming from a MacBook Air, it feels heavy. The unusual aspect ratio (3:2) is taller than most current laptops, and reminds me of old laptops I once had in the early 2000s. Google emphasized all the attention to detail in the unveiling, and I think you can see that. 

2) The screen itself is gorgeous. It is obviously superior to my Air, though I'm guessing it looks pretty much like a Retina display. (I haven't had a chance to compare them side by side.)

3) Google's Sundar Pichai said the Pixel was for "people who live in the cloud." I'm definitely one of those people with one big exception: photo editing. When you're blogging, you're always cropping and editing. And I like my Photoshop workflow. 

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4) I don't know that I can tell if I'll find the touchscreen useful in just an hour or two. Playing around, I found that I did want to touch the screen occasionally. I'd click on a Twitter link, get to a site I rarely visit and scroll around a bit before touching a link. I've never liked the lean forward/back dichotomy, and I think the Pixel drives right into the space between those two putative experiences. Sometimes you're not really leaning forward or back, you're sitting there paging through the Internet.  Call it late-afternoon-at-work consumption. And my hypothesis is that the Pixel's touchscreen might be quite nice for that kind of use.

5) While the Pixel only has 32GB of storage on the machine, it comes with a terabyte of cloud storage. That's wild. 

The biggest problem with the Pixel seems to be its price. The wi-fi only unit will cost $1299. That puts it in direct competition with the MacBook Air, although you get a much better screen out of the deal. I've seen a lot of people -- say, Marco Arment -- asking, "Who is this for?" It's a fair question. 

Institutionally, you have to wonder how the Android and Chrome teams are getting along inside Google these days. You've now got two touch-enabled operating systems within the same giant company. Sure, one's for laptops and the other's tablets and phones, but how clear is that line these days? The Pixel says not very. 
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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