Apple iPad Challenges Google's Chrome Cloud Computing Designs

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-01-30

Apple iPad Challenges Google's Chrome Cloud Computing Designs

Apple's iPad is positioned to challenge Google's plans for cloud computing if the tablet PC catches on, analysts believe.

The iPad aims to provide the most compelling Internet experience users have seen to date, with Apple CEO Steve Jobs proclaiming that holding the tablet is like "holding the Internet in your hand."

The 9.7-inch IPS screen displays crisp high-definition video, as well other content such as games, e-books and e-mail for users to consume from the Web or the cloud. Author Nicholas Carr, who watches the cloud computing space closely, summed up the iPad:

"It wants to deliver the killer device for the cloud era, a machine that will define computing's new age in the way that the Windows PC defined the old age. The iPad is, as Jobs said today, "something in the middle," a multipurpose gadget aimed at the sweet spot between the tiny smartphone and the traditional laptop. If it succeeds, we'll all be using iPads to play iTunes, read iBooks, watch iShows, and engage in iChats. It will be an iWorld."

Not if Google can help it. The search engine later in 2010 is expected to bring its own version of the Internet held in users' hands: netbooks based on its Chrome Operating System.

There is also the slew of Android-based tablets and netbooks that companies such as Acer and Asustek Computer are building. Even Dell CEO Michael Dell was showing off the Android-based Dell Mini 5 tablet at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The iPad will clearly be a challenge to Google's plans for cloud computing, which include making sure Google search and Google Apps reach any device connected to the Web. Gartner analyst Ray Valdes said Apple and Google are on a collision course with overlapping machines.

"You could look and say that iPad is being targeted to the broad market of casual users rather than say the road warrior who needs to run Outlook and Excel and the people who are going to surf the Net on the couch," Valdes told eWEEK. "One could say that a netbook based on Chrome OS would have an identical use case."

That sets up a classic quandary for consumers: Do they buy an iPad starting at $499, or a Chrome netbook that will likely be priced in the same range or lower?

Valdes sees two types of users on the couch: a teenager playing games bought from Apple's App Store on an iPad, and a mom or dad consuming Internet content on a Chrome OS netbook.

Weighing Google vs. Apple Choices

Android, Gartner's Valdes said, could be more adversely affected by the iPad because Android-based netbooks and tablets would be geared to run the thousands of games in the Android Market.

But consider this: Apple can sell millions of iPads before consumers even get a glimpse of a Chrome netbook, and Google will still be omnipresent on the iPad thanks to its leading search engine and other Web applications, such as the Chrome Web browser.

Google's search is the gateway to digital services such as YouTube, which is now offering online rentals to garner revenue, and the Google Editions online bookstore.

The Google Book Search project is pending court approval. Once resolved, the Google Editions online store could offer access to millions of books, competing with the new iBookstore for the iPad.

Apple is starting from scratch in the digital book realm and its strict DRM rules will limit Apple's reach, Gartner analyst Allen Weiner told eWEEK.

"This isn't music. There aren't millions of songs and MP3s that can be put in the iTunes store," Weiner told eWEEK. "Much of this content is in a form that would need to be digitized and made ready for these devices."

He noted that while Apple needs to do a lot of work to get this content ready for the iPad, Google has that process in place. Google can get in the books game quickly with Google Editions.

One area Apple's DRM lockdown doesn't affect is the Web browser. The Chrome Web browser presents another entry point for iPad users. When Google released Chrome for the Mac platform in December, Chrome's market share spiked to 4.63 percent, passing Apple's Safari browser in worldwide market share.

"Chrome browser on iPad gives Google a nice path to further its 'any device' strategy," Weiner said. "[Google] wants to be [on] as many devices as possible. I don't see any way Apple can keep them off. Apple will have to hope they can do a better job [of] rendering content, developing apps, integrating the Apple experience with the content and pricing."

But it still might come down to this: If you're an Apple fan, you're probably going to stick with what you know and love. If you're a Google fan, you may hold off on buying an iPad until you see what the Chrome OS or Android netbook experience is like.

What is clear is that in the cloud computing war, Google has supplanted Microsoft as Apple's nemesis. If iPhone versus Android doesn't excite you, maybe the coming iPad versus Chrome OS battle will.

Rocket Fuel