Did ChromeBook recycled the idea of NetworkComputing(NIC)? Would it be sandwitched between Tablets and Laptops?

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Yesterday during GoogleIO 2011 conference, Sundar Pachai, a young SVP of Chrome from Google, announced ChromeBook as an innovative concept that no one in the industry does it today. Here is the advertisement covering the key salient features of the Google ChromeBook:

Google  demonstrated the power of Chrome browser and Web GL with high performing JavaScript that can run AngryBird smoothly on the box. Cool. The team demonstrated, a Very impressive 3D graphics! The most importantly Google announced a low cost subscription model for students and businesses. AT $29 for businesses as a complete package including repairs/replacement/maintenance (now a days its easy to replace than repair though) with three years contract seems to be a very good proposal for businesses, government agencies  and educational institutions. The businesses may need to pay more for Google Apps (about $50 per annum).

However, more I think about this, how innovative it is? I remember Larry Ellison had started Network Internet Computing in late 1990s-2000. Here is a news snippet

http://news.cnet.com/Ellison%27s-Net-computer-gets-a-pricey-accessory/2100-1040_3-251953.html May be he was ahead of time when the cost of LCDs, CPU and hard disks were high. He too may not have been that innovative in the idea itself. Much prior to NIC, during the time of Mainframe’s what we all used to get the dump terminals. Nothing on the terminal but everything from storage to applications were on the mainframe. Now, replace the terminals with smart terminal and mainframe with Internet-based servers and services, and you got this ChromeBook. Of course, we need to accommodate other progresses in related technologies like cloud computing, browsers etc. So, from the vision point of view, it is finally getting there! Network computing or Web computing.

However, the cost is not yet justified. For a while there has been announcements of below $100 laptops. In India, there is effort going on around Rs.5000 ($100) laptop. Last week, a geek in UK demonstrated ARM based low end device which can be used as network computer at $35. So, when this device does not have any hard disk, or other peripherals and OS is open-source, why does it have to be in the range of more than 499(wifi)-599(wireless)  dollars? If ChromeBook comes at $100 many would jump on it. May be in future it may happen. May be this is Google ChromeOS launch than the actual device launch just like how Android was launched via Nexus.

More than the cost factor, what I am seeing is that as of now Chromebook is not ready to replace laptops. Netbooks were supposed to be doing it. However, we have seen in 2010 than iPad just dislodged the Netbooks and it is on the verge of dislodging Laptops. Two advantages mentioned by Sunil does not play well against tablets: 1. QUick boot up time (less than 7 seconds) 2. Very low power consumption(no need to carry charger). Fighting against PCs is tough but fighting against smartphones and tablets is more tougher especially because of various apps and related ecosystem that is built around it.

Moreover, in emerging countries, general consumers may just by-pass laptop generation and get on to mobile computing using next generation smartphones loaded with communication, sharing, collaborating and office apps. On the upper side, those who needs more sophisticated personal compters, they can use Laptops. In that case, it may happen that ChromeBook may get sandwiched between tablets/ smartphones and upper end laptops specifically Mac Book Pro Air.

At one end, Google launched a very open hardware initiative that would widely open up potential of Android devices for close integration to home computing and beyond. On other end, we see this Web only device. Yes, google has resources to bait on both, it is consumer who can decide which can win. However, it is still evident that Google has difficulties in answering differentiation and why one should use ChromeBook instead of tablets.

This dilemma is evident from following interview:

Of course, with Google’s persuasion, this won’t be non-starter. Definitely it can handle some pain-points of IT departments of access, maintenance and security as long as all that needs to be there is available on web and does not need any installs. May be there could be very serialized flavors of such device: Facebook Computer! Any way, for many it is becoming ubiquitous to internet. Just like once AOL was there for many. Of course, without continuous innovation and adding values to the consumers, such privileged status would not  exist forever for Facebook or anyone for that matter!


Another issue that I did not eloborate is about dependency on Chrome, openness of Chrome Web Store and finally embracing to Google. Another twitter, @Draymong, who commented on my comment on the HuffPost article on this matter, brought to my attention that I should propbably talk about it.

First, Chrome is great but as of now it is not the top browser from the consumer usage point of view. Many sites are not well tested for the compatability with Chrome.

Second, Chrome Web Store is not yet opened for other broswers and Google’s story about the openness of this aspect is still unclear.

Third, hooking on to ChromeBooks may also imply that embracing to Google’s roadmap and tight integration with Google’s ecosystem (which is great but every absoulute control has a negative side effect that may concern some businesses).

Its not that I am completely rejecting that there won’t be a market for this. But as of now it is not going to replace laptop/ PC market and would not outpace iPads/smartphones / tablets. Here are some markets where I do see potential: 1. Kiosks 2. Terminals at libraries, airport checkin, etc etc. 3. Monitoring solutions and dashboards 4. Internet cafes in under-developed countries 5. games console 5. Schools 6. Replacement for POS etc. 7. Government offices where data security is key and does not want access to local storage. etc. However, in almost all of these markets cost is the considering factor in the decision making. May be subscription model would work.

Anyway, there are usecases where it is absolutely useless eg. mobile users.. how can I use this on flight? of course, I need to own a laptop or tablet for the same 🙂 Even if I am not in plane, the wireless career’s reliability of service would pose an issue. What if careers start charging more and more per download size?

Anyway, I am yet to have hands on Google ChromeBooks. But I cannot pay and buy just for trying out. Having iPhone, iPad Mac Book Pro, windows Laptop, and multiple linux boxes, I am yet to have a pressing need to buy it. Of course, if you have it, I would like to borrow and try it out! 🙂