Google Chrome OS Notebooks Coming with Gmail Subscription

Google's Chrome Operating System may come as a hardware subscription service, the latest attempt by the search engine to disrupt the computing market.

Google will begin selling notebooks based on its Chrome Operating System via a subscription-based model with Gmail in addition to the traditional one-time purchase plan favored by computer makers and retailers.

Chrome OS is Google's lightweight, Web-based operating system, a departure from Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac platforms.

Google gave away a CR-48 test notebook last winter, and the company said Chrome OS would appear on notebooks from Samsung and Acer later this year. Engadget noted the looming presence of the Samsung "Alex," notebook from a Chromium bug report.

The Neowin blog said Google will sell Chrome OS based notebooks for $10 to $20 per month with Gmail in June or July.

The company, which will ensure that Chrome OS computers are distributed through channel partners akin to the way Android smartphones and tablets are sold, will provide hardware refreshes and replacements for the duration of the user's subscription.

A Google spokesperson said the company had nothing to share at this time. The lack of an outright denial suggests there is some merit to Neowin's report.

This shouldn't come as a shock from Google, whose stock-in-trade is disrupting existing computing sectors. This is the same company that tried to shake the foundations of the traditional carrier mobile phone model by selling its Nexus One smartphone through its Webstore.

When people realized they wouldn't be able to see or touch the phones, they passed and Google folded its Webstore tent.

Selling commodity notebooks as a subscription service -- that is, treating the hardware like a cheap shell through which users can access free and paid apps -- might have more muscle.

Google supposedly has over 200 million Gmail users and could have a lot of takers for this Chrome OS subscription model low-cost model at a time when notebooks cost $500 and up.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa said selling hardware on subscriptions is not unlike the way the mobile phone market works, with consumers buying a phone and paying for the data services. However, the margins are clearly better in a phone market where carriers are charging $99 to $300 for a smartphone with a two-year deal.

"Costs of manufacturing are becoming low enough to make that something worth experimenting with more broadly," Hilwa told eWEEK. "Certainly consumers have habituated to the notion of monthly subscriptions and termination fees."

Of course, Chrome OS will have to be tempting enough for both users to try and for developers to write applications for. According to the Chrome OS Apps blog, there are about 3,800 Chrome OS apps in the Chrome Webstore, hardly enough to be a game-changer.

Hilwa said pairing Chrome OS with Gmail may hint that Google intends the platform as an e-mail or social networking machine. Considering all of the smartphones, notebooks, netbooks and tablets that already enable these activities, it may make it hard to justify buying a new device.

"With the onslaught of new devices on the market, vendors should think through specific scenarios of use before going to market and make sure such scenarios are compelling and justify the volume expectations of a device," Hilwa added.