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.
When 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.
Then 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
Google's 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.