14 May 2011

Chromebook vs. iPad. Does it stand a chance?

So this is the value proposition of the new Chromebook. Is it only me or all of this sounds familiar? How about the iPad - Instant On, 10 hr battery, always connected, content anywhere via iTunes and free updates. The more I read into the Chromebook announcement, the more I am confused about the product category Google is trying to define here. As usual, let's try and break this down.

Target segment - Consumer, Enterprise
On the outset, the Chromebook looks a non-starter for consumers. Despite having a stripped down OS, it is more pricey than most of the top-end netbooks. It does not have any storage, so you can't store movies, music and other content - which means you cannot sync it to your iPhone, iPod or other mobile devices. This alone makes it a machine which can't be used as a primary laptop. And we've still not started talking about its inability to run any native software, so no Office, no Photoshop, no Skype.
As a secondary device, it has in competition the mighty iPad, and their very own Android based tablets. Head to head, I don't see people lining up for these books any time soon.

Enterprise is a slightly different story though, and Google has done well in identifying it as its primary target segment for ChromeOS. The idea of a machine with no expensive software, update and maintenance hassles and easy monthly installments will entice some organizations. Even here, it would attract only SMB, schools and colleges to begin with. Larger companies would be very tough to convert. IT inertia of these companies is simply too huge and is certainly something that Google has seen first hand with its enterprise apps suite. And then here again it would go head to head against tablets, which we know are being adopted increasingly in enterprise.

Web vs Native
People love native apps. Google themselves has accepted this trend with its Android market. Most of their web services are now available as native apps on Android. So why are they telling us to use the web?

With ChromeOS, Google is trying to be future ready, a future where the web becomes the standard cross-platform delivery system. Its showcase of browser based immersive apps during I/O was an attempt to show the world the potential of the web. The question here though is time. With standards like HTML5 still some years away from maturing, this might be a long haul.

What about Windows?
Lets also not forget the mighty Windows and its next version, Windows 8. From what we hear, it would be a light weight OS, with faster boot times and superior touch abilities. If Microsoft is able to deliver well on all these counts, ChromeOS will be rendered dead on arrival on the enterprise side too.

There is no arguing that ChromeOS is a radical concept in computing and will take time to go mainstream. How Google markets this thing would be crucial. We have seen them fumble before with their Nexus S and Google TV. It can be argued that only Apple and its behemoth marketing ecosystem could have created a new category of devices with its iPad. Google will need to pull of something similar to be successful.

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