Just as tablet makers like Apple pack 80 percent of PC functionality into a slim new format, Chromebook makers bundle a different, but just as essential, subset of PC features, in a familiar-looking hardware package.
The two moves are a pincer attack on the traditional PC.
A wake-up call from Acer
Spending a week with Acer’s C720 Chromebook was a wake-up call.
At first glance the C720 isn’t promising. It’s a NZ$400 laptop. How could something that price deliver the goods? How could it possibly excite someone who has been writing about technology for over 30 years?
Acer’s Chromebook hardware specification is far from fancy. The C720 screen measures 11.6 inches and resolution is just 1388 by 768. My phone has more pixels
Most phones also have more computing power than the C720′s Celeron processor. Many do better than 4GB of Ram and the C720′s 16GB SSD.
Power doesn’t come into it
In truth the hardware barely matters. Much of the important processing is done elsewhere. The most important thing in a Chromebook box is the operating system: Chrome OS.
Like the hardware, on paper Chrome OS promises little. Although it is based on Linux, in effect it is simply a swept-up version of Google’s Chrome browser.
You could be forgiven for dismissing Chromebook as another netbook-style flash in the pan. It may look that way if you’ve spent the last 25 years welded to Microsoft’s operating systems and software. After all, the PC era was all about delivering ever more power and features.
Yet that personal computing model was already being questioned by netbooks and phones before Apple unleashed the first iPad tablet. It turns out most users don’t need all that power, expense and complexity in a traditional PC. They never did.
The dark side of the Chromebook
Three things stand between the Chromebook and widespread acceptance.
First is a growing suspicion of Google’s business model. The company wants to know far too much about customers. Its main business is selling advertising.
Second, there are still a few things that you can’t do that well with Chrome OS. It’s not good for content creation, even web design is tricky.
Third, Chrome faces a confusing challenge from within Google. Earlier this month hardware makers were showing Android-based laptops.
Destination or journey?
I suspect the Chromebook – in its current form – is a transitional product. What’s clear is that Google and Chromebook makers are on to something worthwhile. It’s a direction worth exploring and one I will keep an eye on.