iPad, Android Tablets May Cannibalize Netbooks, but Not Chrome OS

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-19

iPad, Android Tablets May Cannibalize Netbooks, but Not Chrome OS

Spurred by the success of Apple's iPad, the tablet computer market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 42 percent and gobble up sales that would have normally gone to netbooks.

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said tablets will cannibalize netbooks in 2012 and outsell netbooks by 2014, partly because netbooks don't sync data across devices the way the iPad does.

Google's Chrome Operating System is rolling out on netbooks, likely from Acer, Asus, HP and Lenovo this holiday season.

What kind of chance do these machines stand in a market that is clearly becoming controlled by the iPad, and eventually tablets based on Google's Android operating system?

As the tablet garden blossoms, won't Chrome OS suffer from blight as it tries to gain traction on netbooks?

Epps, who is the author of the Forrester report on the PC prognostications, doesn't believe so. Epps told eWEEK Chrome OS, a lightweight OS designed for running Web applications, is more relevant than ever.

"The world is waiting for a "born connected" operating system to run born-connected devices," Epps said.

There will be a lot of Google fans snapping up Chrome OS netbooks because of the company's cachet and the notion of a computer OS that relies on the cloud and Web apps instead of the classic localized, client-PC model.  

Still, Epps said that while the growth of consumer cloud storage and Chrome OS will keep netbooks alive, their moment of hypergrowth has passed.

Starting in 2012, tablets will outsell netbooks, eventually comprising 23 percent of PC units sales versus 17 percent of netbooks by 2015.

A Google spokesperson said Chrome OS remains on schedule to appear on netbooks later this year, but declined to comment on the Forrester report. Other analysts weren't as shy.

Analysts Discuss Chrome OS Prospects

Pund-IT analyst Charles King said that tablets are currently a market with one vendor -- a situation that will change radically as we get closer to the holidays and into 2011.

Indeed, several tablets based on Android are coming to the fore. The Dell Streak launches in the U.S. next month, and Google and Verizon are designing a tablet together.

Samsung announced the Galaxy Tab for later this year. HP and several of the vendors building Chrome OS netbooks are building Android tablets for the masses as well.  

Of course, Chrome OS may well thrive on tablets as well, or any form factor that supports a consumer's need to boot up instantly and be online. Earlier this year, Google engineers posted pictures of a Chrome OS tablet prototype.

Certainly Google hasn't been bashful about its desire to get its software paired with ads on as many Web-connected devices as possible. "From Google's perspective, it makes sense to be on as many devices as possible, no matter what the form factor," Epps added.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa believes Google must perform a delicate balancing act, justifying to OEMs the value of offering tablets with two different OS'.

"Google is unlikely to do anything to hurt the momentum of Android and they should indeed be careful not to create confusion with device makers on this," Hilwa said. "There is such a thing as too much choice when OEMs may hesitate to commit as they try to understand a product's positioning or differentiation."

Google also doesn't want to confuse consumers. A Chrome OS tablet might cannibalize an Android tablet. Worse, two OS' may paralyze consumers into not buying either and send them for an iPad or Windows 7-based tablet instead.

Hilwa said the consumer market may be headed toward storing everything centrally in the cloud, making multiple devices a necessity.

"That is the where Chrome OS is going I believe," said Hilwa. "How that dovetails with the Android strategy of today is still to be worked out."

Hilwa said one solution could be that Google makes Chrome OS an alternative personality for Android specific to those devices that intend to share information centrally and may be embedded as an optional feature in Android down the road.

Pund-IT's King said Chrome OS' future looks bright: "Computer users and usage are becoming increasingly mobile and Internet-centric," King said. "If that's truly the case, then demand for Web-centric OSs like Chrome could grow over time.


Rocket Fuel