Google Chrome OS Tablet Evolving in Open Source

Google is baking specifications for a tablet based on its Chrome operating system tablet in its open-source code. With Android Honeycomb tablets marching, a Chrome OS tablet is curious.

A tablet computer based on Google's Chrome operating system is wending its way through the search engine's open-source pipeline, the company confirmed.

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.

Pictures and a demo video of what a tablet computer running Chrome OS looks like surfaced on Google's Chromium open-source Website in February 2010, just days after the original Apple iPad was introduced.

Little has been heard about a Chrome OS tablet since, but CNET discovered changes in Chrome, and Chrome OS source code point to the progress of the slate.

Among the finds is text that browsers supply so Web servers can deliver Websites tailored for touch-screen interfaces. There are specs for a virtual keyboard with tab, delete, microphone, return and shift keys. A revamped new tab page has been "optimized for touch," with application icons that may be moved around the screen.

Google confirmed the existence of the Chrome OS tablet specifications, but told eWEEK no product was forthcoming. "We are engaging in early open-source work for the tablet form factor, but we have nothing new to announce at this time," a Google spokesperson said.

Google envisioned the first Chrome OS devices would be clamshell form factor netbooks, but the CR-48 was a notebook. The change was perhaps triggered by the wild success of the iPad; sales of netbooks designed solely for Web surfing dropped precipitously after the inception of the iPad.

Count IDC analyst Al Hilwa among analysts not surprised by a Chrome OS tablet at a time when IDC expects tablet sales to reach 44.6 million units in 2011 and 70.8 million units in 2012.

"I think the tablet form factor will increasingly be seen as trendier, more suitable for content consumption and casual use, more accessible to non-computer-savvy audiences because of the directness of the touch interface," Hilwa told eWEEK.

"For this reason, any new OS offering has to cater to that directly and include the appropriate developer APIs and mechanisms to make sure apps can work in both modes."

Industry watchers are keenly waiting to see what sort of tablet might emerge from Chrome OS, particularly since slates based on Google's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system are storming the market.

Motorola Mobility's Xoom is the only Honeycomb tablet currently available, but Samsung, LG, Toshiba, Sony and others will bring Honeycomb tablets to the market before year's end.

There is the concern that Android and Chrome OS tablets could cannibalize each other, agreed Hilwa.

"Positioning it as a tablet brings into the foreground the overlap with Android Honeycomb and begs the question of which Google really wants OEMs to use," Hilwa said. "For this reason also, I think that most of the Chrome OS technology will surface in Android at some point in an incremental fashion."

Hilwa said the application architectures need to take advantage of the computing power in the tablet to provide great performance through caching and offline work, since Internet access is still not ubiquitous or cheap.

"Once we see such offline technologies work effectively in Chrome, then we may see it achieve broader acceptance [as a cloud device]," Hilwa explained.