Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Near the beginning of my interest in Chromebooks, Google made a somewhat-odd decision to shack up with HP and make the decidedly-Google-y HP Chromebook 11. If you don’t remember it, we talked quite a bit about this pill-shaped Chromebook a few weeks back when news came to light that ‘Lindar’ was a Chromebook in development with a lightbar attached. The HP 11 was the most Google-centric Chromebook ever made apart from Google’s own Pixels and Pixelbooks. After all, only Google’s own hardware has been adorned with the signature 4-color LED strip, so the inclusion of it on the HP 11 along with tons of other Google-y appointments made it feel very #madebyGoogle before #madebyGoogle was a thing.
As we know ‘Lindar’ is most certainly getting this lightbar treatment, it would only follow that this would be a Google Chromebook, right? Pixelbook 2, maybe? That’s what we initially thought and while I’d be inclined to continue to think exactly that, the evidence has only continued to mount against a Google-made Chromebook in ‘Lindar’. Don’t get me wrong: ‘Lindar’ is most definitely shipping with the 4-color lightbar and it is even being tweaked to get the colors just right per the ‘mechanism team’s request’.
But a lightbar doesn’t point to a new Pixelbook. As a matter of fact, Pixelbooks have never employed a lightbar. The inclusion of the lightbar simply ties ‘Lindar’ to Google in a unique way, meaning this will have Google’s signature all over it. The problem is we have absolutely zero evidence that this is going to ship with anything other than Lenovo’s stamp on it, too. We talked about this previously, but on nearly every commit for this device we see @lcfc email addresses that point us to Lenovo’s LCFC Hefei manufacturing arm. There is no chance this device isn’t being built there and from what I can tell, there isn’t a single device that rolls out of that plant without a Lenovo logo on it. So what gives?
I smell a collaboration
Not surprisingly, Google has been very tight-lipped about a Pixelbook 2 or any sort of future in-house Chromebook. Their answers usually revolve around partnering with manufacturers and honestly, I get it. Google gets involved when the market needs to move forward and then they stay out of the way. While I’d love for them to take a more-aggressive Microsoft Surface approach to Chromebook hardware, it seems Google is content with allowing their manufacturing partners to expand and grow the market.
So, if they aren’t behind ‘Lindar’ in a Pixelbook sort of way, what is going on with this device? My money is on some sort of collaboration with Lenovo. Google Pixelbook by Lenovo? Lenovo Pixelbook? Who knows, but this is the only plausible explanation at this point. If ‘Lindar’ is equippping the lightbar (it is) and LCFC only manufactures Lenovo-branded hardware (they do), then it looks impossible for a Google-only Pixelbook to come from that factory.
However, if we assume Google could be taking an approach lilke they did with the HP 11, I think we start getting closer to what is actually going on. Back when the HP Chroembook 11 came out, Google didn’t have much presence in the Chromebook game and most people didn’t even know what a Chromebook was. They didn’t have to explain what they were up to with HP and didn’t have to have it make sense to anyone. It was simply a partnership they tried out and never returned to in the same fashion.
That doesn’t mean they never will, though. As a matter of fact, Google has tried this sort of collaboration before in Android phones. Remember Nexus phones having a different manufacturer every year? And what about ‘Google Play Edition’ smart phones? At one time, you could buy some of the most popular phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One with stock, Nexus-like Android on them. Google worked with certain hardware manufacturers to get these pure Android version of their phones into the market and for purists, it was a dream come true. Unfortunately, I think they underestimated how many people simply don’t care about such things, and the program was killed off while the Nexus line gave way to Google’s own Pixel phone brand.
While the situation with Chromebooks is different (Chrome OS is the same across all Chromebooks regardless of the device manufacturer), I could see Google perhaps doing a bit more of the collaborative hardware projects in the future. While I think Google is more than capable of building and shipping great hardware, perhaps collaborative efforts could make for better long-term support and easier supply chains. Let’s face it, Google’s laptop-making chops are child’s play in comparison to Lenovo. The two companies partnered quite closely on the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, so perhaps Google felt it was time to leverage the relationship to try something a bit different with their own take on the next Chromebook.
For now, it’s the only theory that makes any sense at all. Again, we know ‘Lindar’ has the lightbar, we know that lightbars only come on Google-y Chromebooks, and we know that LCFC only makes Lenovo-branded stuff. Allowing ourselves to think that LCFC will just start making and shipping a new Pixelbook with no Lenovo naming feels short-sighted. To think that Google would drop their iconic lightbar on a random Chromebook seems equally ignorant. So, the only thing we can make heads-or-tails of at this point is a collaboration between the two, and I have no idea what shape that will take. What would it be called? What branding will be used? Will there be others? There’s so much up in the air, but the possibilities are exciting and I’m very hopeful that these questions are answered at a fall event where we expect to see the new Pixel 6 and more. Until then, we’ll just keep on digging.