Much of the tech world’s attention this month is focused on two tablets: Microsoft’s Surface tablets running Windows 8, which just became available for pre-order, and Apple’s much-rumored iPad Mini, which could make its debut Oct. 23.
Google’s also using October to make a big hardware announcement, but it has nothing to do with mobile touch-screens. Instead, the search-engine giant is whipping the proverbial curtain back from its new Chromebook, which will retail for $249.
With regard to technical specs, the Samsung-built Chromebook weighs 2.5 pounds and features an 11.6-inch screen (with 1366 x 768 resolution), backed by an ARM-based 1.75GHz Samsung Exynos 5 Dual Processor. Google claims it will boot up in under 10 seconds and, depending on usage, last for 6.5 hours on one battery charge. There’s optional 3G for those who tend to work and play beyond the reach of convenient Wi-Fi connections.
(Google also sells Samsung’s Chromebook 550, which starts at $449 and features a larger 12.1-inch display, 3G connectivity and an Intel Core processor; like the basic Chromebook, it includes 100GB Google Drive cloud storage with a solid-state drive.)
Chromebooks run Chrome OS, Google’s heavily cloud-dependent operating system for laptops and desktops. In addition to cloud services such as Gmail, Chrome OS includes access to the Chrome Web Store and its apps. While there is some offline functionality, including Offline Gmail and document editing via Google Docs, this is clearly a device that’s meant to live online pretty much full-time. (For its part, Google likes to argue that Chrome OS is automatically updated and thus never gets “old.”)
From a product perspective, Chrome OS and its associated hardware found itself fighting a two-front battle: the first against Windows PCs and Macs, both of which could claim more robust hardware for a similar cost to the old Chromebooks (which started at $449), and the second against tablets, which offered the same degree of flexibility and connectivity for a cheaper sticker-price. By setting the cost of the new Chromebook at $249, Google continues that pricing skirmish on more favorable terms.
It remains to be seen whether Google pushes Chrome OS to the same degree it did Android tablets and smartphones. If the upcoming Windows 8 fails to connect with users, it could give alternate operating systems such as Chrome OS an unprecedented opening to seize a bit more of the desktop and laptop market. But will audiences feel comfortable with a device that depends so much on a Web connection, and whose apps and features live almost entirely in the cloud?