Google Chrome Phone Rumor Debated

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-06-07 Print this article Print

The idea of a smartphone based on Google's Chrome operating system is getting some attention, but analysts don't necessarily agree on the possibility.

Anton Wahlman, a former sell-side equity research analyst covering the communications space, wrote on that Google will launch its own Google Phone and that it will be based on Chrome OS, not Android.

He sees Google taking the Chrome OS cloud paradigm, which means Web applications only, to the phone form factor.

This device would only have two major software parts -- the OS and the only allowed browser. However, the OS treats the browser as a de-facto hostile application, not allowing it to modify the OS including locally install any applications.

The idea is that by not allowing locally stored apps to populate the phone, Google would improve security. Wahlman also suggested that this would threaten RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server product:

There would be no traditional need to monitor and restrict the end user device using such comprehensive and active tools. The BES could be replaced by a much simpler management console which would focus more on device access, activity in the browser, and overall account device management only. Google could easily design such a product, causing a lot of headache for RIM.

Seems like a strong position, right? Wahlman's idea has weight because Samsung is planning on building a completely cloud-centric phone, which could be based on the open-source Chromium project that propels Chrome. Motorola may also be mulling a cloud OS to put its eggs in a basket other than Android.

I went to find analysts who either agree or disagree with this idea and found one of each.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa told me the idea of a more complete dependency on the cloud is probably more suited for phones than for personal computers. Hilwa explained:

Given that phones are sold with connectivity, are more prone to loss, and in some cases have to be extremely low-cost such as to replace feature phones, and can require tighter enterprise management, then there is likely a market for cloud phones. Positioned for the right scenarios and at the right price, cloud phones may be viable. Of course the existing notion we have today of smart apps will be different for these cloud phones, so I see this as a separate platform from Android, with its primary capabilities being messaging and browsing, with lightweight browser apps.

Independent industry analyst Jack Gold had a different take, noting that a phone that only works when you have a strong data signal and can't load apps is useless. Gold noted:

"What if I want to check my calendar while on an airplane? How do I play games if I have to do it online only, or enter CRM data while in the basement of my client's building?"

Moreover, Gold said Google would have to do so much engineering to Chrome to make it work as a phone OS that they would end up with Android all over again.

He also disagreed with Wahlman's argument that building a Chrome phone would provide a cost advantage over an Android device.

So pretty much everything this fellow says is wrong, except for the security piece. He is correct that most phones have severe security issues that could be mitigated if everything was available as a cloud service only and never loaded on the phone. But the need to connect at all times, and the amount of data transfer required (and the resulting massive increase in data per month required, at a metered rate) makes this impractical.

What Gold said makes sense, but we also must acknowledge that there are cloud phone plans afoot by at least one phone maker.

I'm not a smartphone technology expert, so I ask gentle readers: Do you think a Chrome OS-based phone is possible and what would it take for this model to work? |

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