Google's Chrome Operating System may come as a hardware subscription service, the latest attempt by the search engine to disrupt the computing market.
Google will begin selling notebooks based on its Chrome
Operating System via a subscription-based model with Gmail in addition to the
traditional one-time purchase plan favored by computer makers and retailers.
Chrome OS is Google's lightweight, Web-based operating
system, a departure from Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac platforms.
Google gave away a CR-48 test notebook last winter, and
Chrome OS would appear on notebooks from Samsung and Acer later this year. Engadget noted
the looming presence of the Samsung "Alex," notebook from a Chromium bug report.
The Neowin blog
said Google will sell Chrome OS based notebooks for $10 to $20 per
month with Gmail in June or July.
The company, which will ensure that Chrome OS computers
are distributed through channel partners akin to the way Android smartphones
and tablets are sold, will provide hardware refreshes and replacements for the
duration of the user's subscription.
A Google spokesperson said the company had nothing to
share at this time. The lack of an outright denial suggests there is some merit
to Neowin's report.
This shouldn't come as a shock from Google, whose
stock-in-trade is disrupting existing computing sectors. This is the same
company that tried to shake the foundations of the traditional carrier mobile
phone model by selling its Nexus One
smartphone through its Webstore.
When people realized they wouldn't be able to see or
touch the phones, they passed and Google folded
its Webstore tent.
Selling commodity notebooks as a subscription service --
that is, treating the hardware like a cheap shell through which users can
access free and paid apps -- might have more muscle.
Google supposedly has over 200 million Gmail users and could
have a lot of takers for this Chrome OS subscription model low-cost model at a
time when notebooks cost $500 and up.
IDC analyst Al Hilwa said selling hardware on
subscriptions is not unlike the way the mobile phone market works, with
consumers buying a phone and paying for the data services. However, the margins
are clearly better in a phone market where carriers are charging $99 to $300
for a smartphone with a two-year deal.
"Costs of manufacturing are becoming low enough to
make that something worth experimenting with more broadly," Hilwa told
eWEEK. "Certainly consumers have habituated to the notion of monthly
subscriptions and termination fees."
Of course, Chrome OS will have to be tempting enough for
both users to try and for developers to write applications for. According to the
Chrome OS Apps blog
, there are about 3,800 Chrome OS apps in the Chrome
Webstore, hardly enough to be a game-changer.
Hilwa said pairing Chrome OS with Gmail may hint that
Google intends the platform as an e-mail or social networking machine.
Considering all of the smartphones, notebooks, netbooks and tablets that
already enable these activities, it may make it hard to justify buying a new device.
"With the onslaught of new devices on the market,
vendors should think through specific scenarios of use before going to market
and make sure such scenarios are compelling and justify the volume expectations
of a device," Hilwa added.