Even if tablet computers, namely the iPad, aren’t killing desktops,
notebooks and kittens, many in the tech and marketing industries
express the sentiment that the tablet is going to be the source of
fundamental change in many markets.
So where does that leave Google’s Chromebook, which the search giant unveiled to the world yesterday?
The Chromebook, as the name implies, is a smallish notebook computer that runs on Google’s Chrome OS.
The assumption behind Chrome OS: as more and more applications get pushed onto the web and into the cloud, you don’t need the desktop; you can simply create an operating system that is little more than a thin layer providing access to the web.
Since Chrome OS was first announced, not much has changed. Google is promoting its Chrome OS-driven notebooks as being “built and optimized for the web, where you already spend most of your computing time. So you get a faster, simpler and more secure experience without all the headaches of ordinary computers“.
The core selling points “instant on, always connected, all-day battery, access your stuff anywhere, gets better over time, security built in” are compelling on paper, even if some of them, like security, should be considered questionable until proven in the real world.
Initially, Acer and Samsung are producing the first versions, which will make their way into the hands of consumers in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain next month. Carriers in those countries will reportedly be offering Chromebook 3G plans.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Chromebook is Google’s pricing model. For consumers, the devices range in price from $349 to $499, but Google is also offering businesses and educational institutions the ability to lease them for $28 and $20 per month, respectively, with a three year commitment that can’t be backed out of.
While some are impressed, it’s not quite clear that paying $720 to $1,008 over three years for a small laptop that can only access the web is a compelling offer, particularly for businesses whose employees often need Windows-based productivity and other professional software.
Even less clear: that in the age of the iPad, consumers will jump to spend up to $500 on a laptop that’s little more than a web browser. Google isn’t pitching the Chromebook as a tablet alternative (which is smart) but obviously, when an iPad that has much of the same capabilities and is far more portable can be purchased for a similar price, it’s hard to figure out where the device fits in.
From this perspective, the success or failure of the Chromebook is not likely going to be determined by the technical merits of the product itself, but rather by Google’s ability to find a market for it.
Here, it’s worth noting that Google has no Steve Jobs to sell its vision, and given that the Chromebook looks and feels like a regular old notebook, it’s difficult to see them finding a significant place in a tablet-obsessed world.