SAN FRANCISCO - Google on Thursday unveiled a touch-screen notebook computer designed for high-end users, throwing down a gauntlet for Apple and its MacBooks.
Google said its Chromebook Pixel computers blending tablet and laptop technology, boasting heavyweight Intel chips and screens tailored for rich graphics, were released in the United States and Britain, starting at $1,299.
"People will give up a MacBook Air for this," Google Chrome senior vice president Sundar Pichai said while showing off the premium end of what, to now, were low-priced notebook computers that serve as windows to Internet-based services.
A Pixel model featuring built-in connectivity to the Verizon mobile Internet service will hit the market in April at a price of $1,449, according to Google.
The version available Thursday allowed connections to the Internet with wireless hot-spot technology or cables.
"It's a great looking product," Om Malik of technology news website GigaOm said at the Pixel debut in San Francisco.
"But Google is facing a selling problem, they have to compete on price originally and build a developer base for a high-end product."
Google hoped people look beyond comparing Pixel prices with competitors such as MacBooks or laptops built on Windows 8 software to see the value the touch-screen and the massive terabyte of Google Drive online data storage included.
"It is clear that touch is here to stay and that it is the future," Pichai said. "I am sure every laptop will have touch in the future."
He described the Pixel screen resolution as superior to that on any laptop being shipped today, including Apple's premium MacBook models.
Google also set out to remedy a complaint by Chrome notebook users frustrated when trying to work with documents or spreadsheets made with Microsoft's widely used Word or Excel software.
Within three months, Google will release Quickoffice software for handling those types of files, according to Pichai.
The announcement adds a new dimension to the rivalry between the two tech giants, which are in a fierce battle over smartphones and tablets.
"This is for power users we expect to live completely in the cloud," Pichai said. "The Pixel is about pushing the state of the art."
Google custom built Pixel and is producing it with the help of electronics manufacturers in Taiwan.
Google intended to make a profit on Pixel sales, but said the main intents were to more deeply mesh the California-based Internet giant's money-generating products and services into people's lives.
Pixels were also intended to set an example for other device makers to follow, according to Pichai.
"Chrome notebooks bring the best of Google together; search, maps, Gmail, and more just a click away," Pichai said. "And since we are obsessed with speed, this Chromebook is screamingly fast."
Google was working with third-party application developers to tailor Pixel programs.
"The goal is to get the Pixel in the hands of all our early adopters as well as developers," Pichai said. "We think our ecosystem will respond well."
Google introduced the first Chromebook in mid-2010 in a challenge to Windows operating software at the heart of Microsoft's empire.
The array of Chromebook makers has grown to include Acer, Lenovo, Samsung and Hewlett-Packard, with previous models offered at bargain prices when compared to high-end laptops.
When Chromebooks were first introduced, then Google chief executive Eric Schmidt predicted that "cloud computing will define computing as we all know it" and that the offering was a viable third option to computers built on Apple and Windows platforms.
Shifting operating software to banks of servers on the Internet means that Google tends to matters such as updating programs and fending off hackers and malicious software.
Advantages include quick start-ups from disk-drive free machines and essentially being able to dive into one's desktop data from anywhere on the Internet.
People can also share their computers, with the operating system preventing snooping on one another.
Google remains devoted to its Android software for powering tablets and smartphones, following two paths when it comes to Internet-synched hardware, according to Pichai.
"So far, we have been in a world that is pretty straight forward: Chromebook laptops and Android tablets," Pichai said. "Once you start building a touch laptop, the lines blur but we are doing both."
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