By Matt Burns
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is committed to the Chromebook and a report out of China indicates a Google-branded model is on its way. If true, this is a smart move and would help the fledgling desktop platform gain traction. The sellout success of recent Nexus products shows Google finally knows how to do hardware.
China Times reports Google intends to launch Chrome OS netbooks equipped with touchscreens. Compal, a Taiwan-based ODM, is tasked with the manufacturing. Per this report, Google placed the order itself rather than relying on a 3rd party like Acer or Asus as with the Nexus products. Internal components will begin shipping to Compal this month, a sign that China Times takes to mean the product itself will ship yet in 2012.
If this report is true - it's at least logical for Google to cut out hardware partners and keep the razor-thin margins to itself - Google is getting ready to compete head-on with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and even Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). In the past Google relied on partners to make hardware. The goal was to push its software into the hands of users; Google didn't seem to care about making money on the hardware. But times have changed. Android is the dominant mobile platform in the world now. The Nexus 7 is the best low-cost tablet available. And to the topic of Google Chrome OS, the recently launched Chromebooks are fantastic.
The hardware game is changing. Microsoft now sells its own hardware in the Surface. Nokia is going up market. And Apple's long-term dominance is in question thanks to a recent lack of innovative products. Windows 8 launch hardware is expensive and there isn't a legitimate desktop solution for the lower price point. Enter Chrome OS.
The Chromebook is nearly two years old. The original Cr-48 debuted in December of 2010. Since then, Google has quietly rolled out new models while increasing distribution to new retailers. The latest models, the Samsung Series 3 and Acer C7, are great machines, offering a fantastic web experience for just $249 and $199, respectively. But they're only interesting because of their low price. Any increase in the MSRP would diminish their appeal.
The China Times report states that the Google-branded Chromebook would rock a touchscreen. That would make it more expensive than the new Samsung and Acer Chromebooks. And a more expensive Chromebook is a less desirable Chromebook. There is little else known about the product. No word on processor type, local storage or cellular connectivity.
Google has a big opportunity with the Chromebook although it has never really pushed the product. It seems as if the Chromebook is Google's hobby, like the Apple TV is to Apple. It's a fun experiment, but that could change if this report is true. If Google produces its own Chromebook, and it's not an internal testing product like the Cr-48, expect to see a big push for Chrome OS. And that's fantastic. For many users, Chrome OS with its full web experience and relatively low hardware requirements is the perfect causal computing platform - even more so than iOS or Android.