Google has plans to sell online a netbook based on its Chrome Operating System, similar to the way it sold its Nexus One smartphone, according to Digitimes.
Chrome OS is a Web operating system that Google is building to run on netbooks as an alternative to computers running traditional operating systems, such as Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s Mac.
The platform-intended initially for netbooks sans local storage-will support Web applications running in Google’s Chrome Web browser. Google introduced Chrome OS last November, with a goal to have it running on netbooks by November 2010.
Digitimes said Nov. 2 that the search engine will launch a Google-branded netbook, built by Inventec, through a Webstore online instead of through traditional retailers, such as Best Buy. Shipments of this ARM-chip-powered netbook will range from 60,000 to 70,000 units.
Google declined to comment on what it deemed “rumor or speculation” from Digitimes, which added that Chrome OS netbooks from major computer makers such as Acer and Hewlett-Packard will arrive in December. Those machines would be offered from retail outlets.
The idea that Google would try to sell netbooks, presumably sight unseen or untouched, through a Webstore is a bit of a surprise after the market demise of the Nexus One smartphone.
Google began selling the Nexus One-built by HTC and running Android 2.1 (the only software Google chose to put on it)-online Jan. 5. Users could order it $529 unlocked or $179 with a two-year deal from T-Mobile.
The device didn’t sell well, and Verizon Wireless and Sprint backed off plans to support it. Google shuttered that online store in May.
If people were unwilling to purchase a phone without playing with it in a Best Buy or carrier outlet, wouldn’t they feel that same about buying a netbook with an unproven new operating system online?
Analysts aren’t so sure.
Analysts Discuss Chrome OS Netbook from Google
IDC analyst Al Hilwa told eWEEK that consumers are ready to try new things, making it a great time to launch disruptive appliances at the right prices and with the right content and usability.
“I would withhold judgment on whether this is a runaway success until I am able to play with one,” Hilwa said.
“My instinct is that there are specific scenarios where this makes sense, but the bar for usability has been set high by Apple and Microsoft in the PC space, so it will be tough for a general-purpose platform to breakthrough.”
Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin told eWEEK that the goal in launching the Nexus One and Chrome OS netbook might be different. For instance, with the Nexus One Google wanted to disrupt the mobile phone market by reducing the role of the carrier.
“Consumers already buy their netbooks like other retail products, and carriers play a very small role-our data shows that a paltry 6 percent of netbook owners bought theirs from a carrier-so the same objectives wouldn’t seem to apply in this case,” Golvin added.
In any event, Golvin said Google had better offer good tech support if it sells a Chrome OS netbook, which is likely to be purchased by very tech savvy buyers in the early going.
“As the buyer profile becomes more mainstream (if it does), the lack of physical retail outlets where consumers can actually experience the UI and hardware will be more problematic,” he added.
Google and computer makers face another challenge in spurring adoption for Chrome OS netbooks in the form of tablet computers. Apple’s iPad tablet computer has come on so strong that it has spurred Samsung, Archos, ViewSonic and others to build Android tablets to get a piece of that mobile computing action.
Tablets are already feasting on netbook share, making Chrome OS machines no safe bet this holiday season.