Tech Industry

Two unlikely PC makers emerge: Google, Microsoft

The tech giants are certainly big enough to make waves in the market for personal computers. CNET's Brooke Crothers considers the potential impact of their entry into the arena.

Chromebook Pixel: cutting-edge industrial design. Google and Microsoft are the new computer makers on the block.

Here's a disruptive technology trend: Google and Microsoft as makers of personal computers.

If I had tried to predict in 2010 that these two companies would make branded PCs -- using PC in the generic sense -- I can imagine the response.

"You're an idiot" (and the usual variations I get on that theme) come to mind. But more-thoughtful readers, I'm guessing, would have made the logical argument that Microsoft would piss off its partners and destroy its business model. And Google? Why in the world would Google make a laptop?

Well, it's 2013 and we have the Surface Pro -- which Panos Panay, the Microsoft executive in charge of Surface, has said was "designed as a PC" -- and the Google Chromebook Pixel, which is clearly a laptop.

Who knows how all of this is going to shake out, but we do know that Microsoft is not going away and, in fact, will expand its Surface lineup. And I don't think the Pixel is a one-time deal. (I hope not, because I intend to buy the next iteration.)

So, how does this disrupt things? Here are a few thoughts.

  • The decline of the PC OEM: PC makers like Samsung and Acer will look elsewhere (Android). Yeah, they'll still make PCs, but the writing is on the wall: this isn't your father's PC industry.
  • Vertical computer companies: Apple's success as a hardware and software designer is well known, aka, vertical integration of design. That is, all aspects of hardware and software design of the iPad and MacBook are controlled by Apple. Now add Microsoft and Google to that list.
  • Rise of Microsoft: Microsoft doesn't have to do a whole lot to rise as a PC maker, since it's starting from zero. My opinion is that its mere presence makes all the difference. Surface influences how Microsoft designs its software. To wit, Windows 8. That affects all PC users.
  • Google's Pixel: Google is doing more or less the same thing. It's using a killer laptop design to bring attention to Chrome. It's certainly got my attention. Chrome as an operating environment is very niche right now, but I can see it catching on as Google finesses and improves the experience and more reviewers realize that you don't need a traditional OS like Windows or OS X.

That just scrapes the surface (pun not intended). I'm sure readers can think of a lot more disruptive outcomes with these two giant companies making devices.

Microsoft Surface.
Microsoft Surface. CNET