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New Chromebook for Google

– Google Inc., owner of the world’s most popular search engine, debuted a touchscreen version of the Chromebook laptop, stepping up its challenge to Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. in computer hardware.

A Wi-Fi only version of the Pixel Chromebook is now on sale in the U.S. for $1,299, Google said last week at an event in San Francisco. In April, the company plans to introduce a $1,449 version with access to so-called long-term evolution wireless networks, the fastest available.

Google, already leading in the market for smartphones with its Android software, is expanding in hardware to lure more users to its Web-based services with Chromebooks that rely on Internet applications instead of built-in software. The company is taking a risk by pushing into the high end of a personal-computer market that’s been slammed by diminishing demand. Laptop purchases have tapered off as consumers and businesses increasingly favor smartphones and tablets.

“There’s a limited number of things you can do well with these types of machines,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC. “The price is fairly high.”

In June, Google unveiled a $199 touchscreen tablet, Nexus 7, to compete with Apple’s iPad as well as the Surface, a tablet introduced that month by Microsoft. An older Chromebook made by Acer Inc. costs $199, while some versions from Samsung Electronics Co. and Hewlett-Packard Co. cost more than $300.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, has stumbled with some previous forays into hardware. The company’s Chrome laptops have been slow to gain traction with consumers, as have the Google TV set-top boxes and high-definition televisions.

“First it was the battle of hardware, then it was the battle of software, now it’s the battle of hardware, software, browsers and eyeballs,” said Laurence Balter, an analyst at Oracle Investment Research.