Over the years, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) have begun to increasingly butt heads in major competitive areas like search, Internet browsers, productivity software, mobile operating system platforms, and many others.
It turns out that the search giant might be siding with Microsoft for once in the belief that perhaps laptops should be infused with touchscreens, despite Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) assertion that they shouldn't.
A touchscreen laptop by any other name
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Big G is indeed in the process of developing a touchscreen Chromebook that is expected to be launched later this year.
The news is particularly interesting since a rumored device called the "Chromebook Pixel" with a Retina-caliber display and touchscreen made the rounds earlier this month -- but most evidence pointed to it being an elaborate hoax. However, there were some tidbits found within Chrome OS documentation that suggested perhaps the device could be real after all.
Regardless, the WSJ is now pitching in and confirming the device's existence in Google's pipeline, regardless of what it ends up being called.
Just hours after the report, Google went ahead and officially announced the device. The Chromebook Pixel is real, and carries a 2,560 x 1,700 resolution that rivals Apple's Retina MacBook Pros. The laptop carries an Intel Core i5 processor and will be available in Wi-Fi and cellular models.
Is Apple wrong?
Apple has made it abundantly clear that it has no current plans to market touchscreen MacBooks, because of the fatigue that sets in when a user tries to manipulate a vertically oriented touchscreen for extended periods of time. This effect was dubbed "gorilla arm" decades ago by researchers, but people's arms haven't changed a whole lot since then.
Windows 8 is a massive bet against gorilla arm, which hinges on the hope that by using touch interfaces as a complement to the traditional mouse and keyboard (instead of a substitute), it can usher in a paradigm shift.
Microsoft and Apple are taking different approaches to touch, and Google thinks that the software giant might be on to something.
Developers, developers, developers!
One challenge that Google will face is getting developers to make compatible apps for touchscreen Chromebooks. It faces the same problem that Microsoft faces on the mobile front. Google's market share on traditional PC form factors is negligible, much like Microsoft's smartphone position. Those low market shares make it difficult to convince developers to get onboard.
Analysts estimate that there were only 100,000 Chromebooks sold during the fourth quarter, which is a rounding error in the context of the 89.8 million units that were shipped worldwide. Meanwhile, IDC estimates show Windows Phone and Windows Mobile comprising just 2.6% of the smartphone market in the fourth quarter.
Pick of the litter
The hardware partner for a touchscreen Chromebook is still up in the air. The search giant has already grown its stable of hardware partners for current Chromebook offerings, and now sells devices made by Samsung, Acer, and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) . When HP unveiled its Pavilion 14 Chromebook earlier this month, the company said that Chrome OS was gaining traction among consumers. HP has also been an important hardware partner for Windows 8, so the PC giant is interested in hedging its OS bets by embracing numerous platforms.
Google could easily tap any of these three OEMs or form partnerships with others to build a touchscreen version.
The touchscreen rises
NPD estimates that 25% of all Windows 8 laptops sold in January featured touchscreens, and that Google is right to hop on that bandwagon. That's a notable improvement from NPD's estimates back in November shortly after Windows 8 was launched when it estimated that 6% of Windows 8 device sales were sporting touchscreens.
Even though Chrome devices can potentially compete with Android gadgets as the line between laptops and tablets continues to blur, Google doesn't care so long as those users keep on Googling and watching YouTube.
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