The other day ZDNet was wetting itself over a huge disruption to the market that they asserted was a game changer. As we now know, they were talking about the Samsung Chromebook. Yes, it’s a $250 notebook that looks like a MacBook Air. And if it were running an operating system then it would have made noise. Simply put, Chrome is barely an operating system. Yes, it runs the web and web apps. If you’ve never used one, it’s little more than that. Because of that you’ll never use it as a full replacement for a real computer (or even a real tablet) and therefor it’s limited in usefulness and sales. Google even stated “It’s been exciting to see many people using Chromebooks as the perfect additional computer for their home.”
When the HP TouchPad went on fire sale I picked one up for $100. I thought it was a sweet deal. That tablet is pretty incredible when it comes to the web and Flash ran great. But that was about it. It wasn’t great for email or documents and the apps were non-existent. Because of that I never used it since I preferred my phone or PC to it every time and I ultimately gave it away as a gift after installing Android. This is effectively where the Chromebook comes in.
Hardware is nothing without software. And Android has two operating systems that it’s working on – Android and Chrome OS. You’ll never convince me that Chrome OS makes any sense compared to Android. Chrome OS is intended to be a cloud based OS. It’s immature and limited in its use, especially when offline. Android is a lot more mature and has a complete ecosystem. You could run it on a netbook and use it for GDocs and for all other Android docs in the ecosystem. Android can do everything that Chrome OS can do but Chrome OS is limited compared to Android. So for a company that has a mobile OS that’s fully portable to release a nice slab of hardware and then drop a second rate OS simply doesn’t make sense. If the Samsung Chromebook had Android on it I could see students buying it and using it instead of a cheap laptop and in that arena it’s plausible, at least to a degree. It’s not replacing a MBA or a full PC but there is a market at $250 for a cheap laptop replacement – provided the OS makes sense. And yeah, a touchscreen may need to be dropped in but that won’t double the price.
I’m not sure what Google’s ultimate plans are with Chrome OS but my instinct is that this is effectively a better web browser for them – like a web meets OS. But it should be use as a web portal on steroids and not an OS replacement. And I think that’s where this is headed and everyone who buys a Chrome OS notebook is a beta tester, plain and simple.