Chrome OS Computers Coming Despite iPad Impact

Asus could launch a $200 netbook running Google's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" or Chrome Operating System open-source platforms. The move would be a gamble versus the iPad and other tablets.

The tech world hasn't reached the middle of the year, but buzz about notebook computers based on Google's Chrome Operating System has been rekindled.

DigiTimes spoke to component makers who said Asustek Computer would launch a cheap netbook running either Google's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system or Chrome OS in June.

The gadget, primarily a Web surfing device, would be based on an Intel Atom chip and cost between $200 to $250, the Website said.

The choice of Honeycomb or Chrome is interesting and curious, considering Honeycomb has been specially designed for the touchscreen-oriented tablet form factor.

Chrome OS is Google's Web operating system, a platform on which Web apps sit and are accessible by the Chrome Web browser. It is intended to be accessed via a device with a keyboard, such as a netbook or notebook.

Asus apparently wants to ship 6 million netbooks this year, which normally would be conservative if it weren't for the fact that Apple's iPad has bottlenecked the netbook market by offering a Web surfing alternative in a 9.7-inch slate form factor.

Motorola got into the slate game with its Honeycomb-based, 10.1-inch Xoom Feb. 24 only to see Apple one-up it by launching the iPad 2 with dual cameras March 11.

While netbooks offer the better typing input advantage of having a full, physical keyboard over a tablet for more intensive writing, the iPad has severely dinged the market for these lightweight computing machines.

Gartner said it now expects worldwide PC shipments this year to grow 10.5 percent over 2010 instead of the 15.9 percent predicted earlier, thanks largely to the impediment of media tablets such as the iPad.

"We now believe that consumers are not only likely to forgo additional mobile PC buys but are also likely to extend the lifetimes of the mobile PCs they retain as they adopt media tablets and other mobile PC alternatives as their primary mobile device," said Gartner Research Director George Shiffler.

The Asus update comes one week after Google's lead Chrome OS product manager Sundar Pichai tweeted that Google had stopped giving out Cr-48 test units and that Chrome OS notebooks remained on track for midyear.

That puts the target date around June, which is when Asus is rumored to launch its new Honeycomb or Chrome OS machine. Pichai said at the grand Chrome OS unveiling last December that Samsung and Acer would be among the first to deliver Chrome OS machines.

If the Digitimes report is correct, we may now count Asus in that mix.