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Can Chromebooks Become Popular Enough to Gain Mass Appeal?

February 12, 2013 - Written By Michael Savino

Google’s Chrome OS has been rolling out onto new hardware lately and has even started generating some buzz around potential new releases. It hasn’t been easy for Google’s Chrome OS since it’s debut and this has mainly been because of it’s limitations and lackluster hardware components. For those that are just getting to know it Chrome OS is basically the Chrome Browser on dedicated hardware; it needs to have a constant internet connection to run (or even turn on) and only allows you access to the things you can access from the browser on any computer. But with those limitations come strengths like super quick boot times, light and thin hardware and most importantly lower priced hardware. At this point it seems that Chrome OS is a descendent of the now defunct netbook of years prior. The main problem of netbooks was the fact that they were too small to be comfortable to use, with cramped keyboards and terrible screen resolutions. They were built out of plastic and their internals were weak and under-clocked CPUs. Unfortunately, this is the same thing that has been happening with the Chrome OS line and the sales have showed, yet there has been an increase in manufacturing and a renewed interest in the always connected hardware, and I know I’m wondering what they know that I don’t.

Chromebook Stacks

Originally there were only a couple players who tested the waters of the Chrome OS and quite frankly, were floundering due to a notion of poor specs, build quality and ease of use. But, lately more and more manufacturers have joined the race, including HP and Lenovo, and it seems that they believe there is something to this black sheep of OS distros. If there was no chance for profitability with Chrome OS than these OEM’s wouldn’t be spending the time or the resources to release hardware that was most likely going to tank. There could be a couple of reasons for this. After using the Chrome OS I think there could be something to it, especially with the advancement of open internet WiFi hotspots on pretty much every mobile device available and in internet cafes across the world. Also, I have always used Chrome on my PC’s, Macs, and mobile devices; mainly because of the syncing available between devices which makes things like password management, application syncing through the Chrome store and bookmark syncing simple and quick. This is what is great about Google, especially for Android users, but even for users of Apple’s products, they make it easy to have your data on all your devices no matter what platform you are on. In essence that is Google’s goal, they don’t care which platform you use, as long as you are using their services. That is what I believe the draw is for people using the Chrome OS and I think that is one of the best reasons to take a look at it. With the rapid adoption of Android and the boon of Google’s hardware and services, including their Nexus line, this is a natural progression for them. The biggest issue will be building hardware and software that is unique enough to go up against the competition and win.

With the recent release of Windows 8 there has been a relative slump in the adoption rate of Microsoft’s new release. This has been a big problem for them because they have gone all in on their bid for dominance in the desktop operating system game with a product that, in many cases, feels half baked. Microsoft has never been known for frictionless releases with their operating system debuts but the debauched release of Windows 8 has been a relative failure thus far and this leaves a gaping hole for Google to stick their head through and take away market share from the current leader of enterprise and personal software operating systems. All of this leaves a huge opportunity for OEM’s to attempt to work with a new operating system to release on their hardware and change the game; that really only leaves two (smart) choices for a new OS, either Ubuntu, the more popular linux distro or the aforementioned Chrome OS. Since more people know about Chrome and have probably had some interaction with it on their current computer, tablet or smartphone, plus the incentive that Google gives to OEM’s to use Chrome (since they make money off the services) it makes Chrome a great choice because manufacturers don’t need to get people accustomed to a brand new operating system. The next step though is for the OEM’s to release hardware that people actually want to use…in public!

Pixel Chromebook Render

Ever since Chrome OS launched it has been on lackluster hardware. This has been because it is lightweight and not too taxing on internals plus they needed to keep cost down and it isn’t a full-fledged OS in the laymen’s terms. Mainly because it doesn’t need as much memory on a traditional harddrive and it needs to have an internet connection at all times to work it really doesn’t run in the traditional sense like Mac OS X or Windows. But recently some renderings of a Chromebook have surfaced, known as the “Pixel”, have showed what could be groundbreaking and game changing hardware. With a high resolution touchscreen display, aluminum construction, multiple ports and slim body, this could separate the Chromebook from the masses by offering something that is great for blogging, social networking, online document editing and pretty much anything else you can do within the browser of your computer. The real draw would be its tight integration with Google services and, if the price is right, could be a great proposition for a lot of people. Traditionally Chromebooks have ranged from $200-$500. The lower end of this spectrum makes these devices an impulse buy and with a 3G or 4G connection at the higher range could alleviate some concern of connectedness. All of these things together, especially the growing Google conglomerate, makes the Chromebook a smart choice for a lot of people and if something like the Pixel shows up I will definitely be buying one.

All-in-All there is still a lot to prove with Chrome OS and the hardware that goes along with it. But, if manufacturer interest is a giveaway to the relative existence of the Chrome OS there may be a chance that this blacksheep can catch on with the masses, especially with the younger crowds of just out of college young adults who don’t have the money for an ultrabook but want something that can connect them to the outside world and still be light, attractive, and usable but for a sub $500 price point. I think if Google and manufacturers like Samsung, HP, Lenovo, and Acer can release attractive, light, and somewhat powerful hardware it could just be the coming of age story Chrome OS needs to take a significant chunk of business from Microsoft, Apple and the tablet industry as a whole.