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Google's 2013 I/O swag giveaway: Less is more

Google only gives out one freebie to developers at its annual conference, but that doesn't mean it was cheap.

Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai holds up the Chromebook Pixel, which was given out to I/O attendees for free.
Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai holds up the Chromebook Pixel, which was given out to I/O attendees for free.
James Martin/CNET

For Google, less is more.

That's the case with the tech giant's latest giveaway at its annual developers conference, which at face value might seem less generous than years past, though that turns out not to be the case when you do the math.

This year's haul: a Chromebook Pixel with LTE, the company's top of the line Chromebook, which sports a very high pixel density screen. Google sells it for $1,449 on its online store, though gave it away to all 6,000 I/O attendees.

All told, that adds up to $8,694,000 if sold at retail, though Google undoubtedly spent less.

To put that in perspective, the company gave out around $5.5 million in goods at last year's show, though it was spread out over more devices and about 500 fewer attendees. That included a Nexus 7 tablet ($199), a Nexus Q media streaming ball ($299), Galaxy Nexus phone ($349) and a Chromebox computer ($329), all worth $1,176 if purchased at retail.

Google has a storied history of giving attendees free hardware -- well, free in the sense that developers are still paying $900 (or $300 for academics) to get in. In 2011, the company gave out a Galaxy Tab 10.1, Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, and Verizon MiFi mobile hotspot to everyone at I/O. In 2010, it was just an HTC Evo 4G, though the 4,000 attendees were also sent either a Nexus One of Verizon Droid two months before the show to get them up and running on all things Android. Then, in 2009 -- which was the first year to have a free giveaway -- attendees were given a free myTouch 3G device on T-Mobile's network.

The reason for all this, of course, is not just goodwill but also strategic -- as some of these giveaway devices were not yet for sale to the public yet. Giving them to developers ahead of time provided a window for app makers and tinkerers to work out the kinks. In this case, I/O attendees are getting the very same computer they could have bought on Google's store for the past month, but at a 100 percent discount.