Google Inc. (GOOG) management has a habit, which dates back to shortly after it was founded, of expensive experimentation that often creates new products. Since Larry Page became chief executive officer in 2011, he has closed many of these initiatives. Outsiders often viewed them as distractions that cost Google time and money.
However, Page has expanded the Google hardware experiment, the newest manifestation of which is the Chromebook 11, released in partnership with Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ). There is almost nothing distinctive about the device, which again raises worries over why Google has entered the hardware business at all.
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Google's largest investment in hardware was its buyout of Motorola Mobility for $13 billion in mid-2012. Motorola had a tiny piece of the smartphone industry then. There is nothing to demonstrate that market share has improved at all. Some patent experts believe that the intellectual property held by Motorola justified the $13 billion. However, Google has done little to exploit that advantage, if it actually exists.
Google went through a phase in which it thought it could design and build smartphones, before it bought Motorola. It has dabbled in the PC business for some time. That dabbling has come with costs, but no success.
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There's nothing noteworthy about the new Chromebook 11. First and foremost, it is not a tablet, which means it is not aimed at a growing part of the market. It does cost only $279, which makes it a bargain of sorts. It is designed for multimedia use, but so are most competing machines. It runs Google software and has a six-hour battery life. Some of these features are attractive, but not enough to make the Chromebook 11 stand out against tablets and products like Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) Macs.
The Chromebook is another experiment that Google management eventually will throw away. Google's Apps and Android are useful to millions of people, but they do not have to come in a product that does not have another single feature to make it commercially viable in a segment of tech already mobbed by competition. The Chromebook 11 is not a worthwhile endeavor at all.