News Analysis: Google's Chrome OS is in a strange place. The company's Web-based operating system that was originally designed with netbooks in mind is now preparing to hit store shelves in a market that covets tablets. Without tablets, Chrome OS might just fail.
Chrome OS-based devices are scheduled to land this fall. But when they are
released, they will find a drastically different marketplace from the space
that they would have entered into when they were first announced.
Google first outlined its plans for Chrome OS, the company believed that the
software would be ideal for netbooks. After all, at the time, netbooks were
cutting into notebook sales, and there was a growing feeling that the
lightweight notebooks would be successful for the foreseeable future.
Apple came up with the iPad, several other companies started announcing
tablets, and all that changed. Today, netbooks aren't selling nearly as well as
they once did, and speculation abounds over how much longer they have before
they're finally discontinued.
All the while, Google
is left to wonder what it will do with Chrome OS
. The Web-based operating
system will certainly be part of Google's strategy over the long term, but it
wanted to get started in netbooks, and eventually make its way to desktops and
notebooks. Meanwhile, Apple's iPad is selling extremely well. And it's making
some wonder if they really need Chrome OS at all.
The future is in doubt for Chrome OS. With netbooks being
marginalized, it would seem that the simple, lightweight operating system must
now rely on tablets to help it stay relevant in a market that changed so
quickly. Here's why:
1. Netbooks aren't working
Netbooks just aren't as successful or as popular as they were
prior to the announcement of the iPad. A year ago, all the talk in the tech
industry was about netbooks. The idea that a simple, small computer would be
able to replace a lightweight notebook was fascinating to consumers. They were
buying those products in droves. But with the release of the iPad, consumer
desired shifted. They viewed the netbook as the middle-of-the-road device that
didn't adequately bridge the gap between the iPhone and the iPad. And
they stopped buying it
. Meanwhile, Google has stuck with netbooks. That can
only mean that tablets are the company's only hope for Chrome OS.
2. Chrome OS is perfect for tablets
Although Chrome OS was originally designed for netbooks, it seems
ideally suited for a tablet. Consumers would be able to access the content they
really care about on the Web without being required to download software. In
fact, Chrome OS seems like an ideal alternative to iPhone OS on the iPad.
Google should embrace that. It needs to realize that Chrome OS probably
wouldn't have done all that well in the netbook market anyway, since Windows is
such a dominant presence. But in the tablet space, it compares quite well.
That's a good thing.
3. It can compete with iPhone OS
Chrome OS can likely do well against iPhone OS. Apple's software
is far more similar to Chrome OS than anything that the Web-based operating
system would have competed against in the netbook space. That would help Google
appeal to consumers. After all, if consumers are looking for a specialty
product that lives in the cloud, but can match iPhone OS, they can opt for
Chrome OS. Apple's operating system is the benchmark by which all tablet
operating systems are judged. And Chrome OS compares quite well.
4. It's not desktop ready
Chrome OS just isn't ready for the desktop. That alone puts all the pressure on
Google to compete effectively in the tablet market. If Chrome OS were able to
run well on a desktop or a full-featured notebook, the pressure on Google would
be off. After all, the company could stay true to its desire of wanting to
deliver a Web-based alternative to Windows. But the operating system just isn't
ready for more capable computers yet. That
means Google needs to make it clear to consumers
, through tablets, that
when Chrome OS is desktop-ready, it will be the operating system they want.
Netbooks just won't cut it.