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Summary:

When Google announced its Chrome OS initiative last June, we entered a waiting period until the second half of this year. But now reports indicate that Acer is prepping a Chrome OS device sooner than that. Here’s why I think those reports are likely accurate.

chrome_os

When Google announced its ambitious plans for Chrome OS on netbooks, any excitement generated quickly fizzled. With a June 2009 announcement of a product not due out until the second half of 2010, momentum isn’t easy to maintain. Many assume that “second half of 2010″ is wide target and may not even mean until the holiday season. But a report out of Digitimes by way of Liliputing indicates that we could see a Chrome OS device sooner rather than later. Facing pressure in the netbook market, Acer is reportedly planning to launch Chrome OS devices by the middle of 2010 — still a wide range, but possibly before most of us anticipated. Although this information isn’t officially backed up by Google, the more I think about it, the more I suspect the timeline has merit.

For starters, Acer is one of the originally named partners that Google is working with for the Chrome OS project. So are Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba. Obviously having Acer on that list doesn’t add major credibility to the DigiTimes report, but if they weren’t listed, you could probably dismiss the news. Sidenote — although Intel is conspicuously absent from the partner list, Google initially said that Chrome OS would be supported on both ARM and x86 platforms. We already know that’s true — I installed a build of Chrome OS as the primary operating system of an x86 netbook back in December.

Speaking of Chrome OS builds, the very place I downloaded mine shows recent activity of late. Last week, “Hexxeh” dropped a brand new build and although it’s not officially from Google, it is built upon the Chromium OS open source efforts that will yield the Chrome OS. So in essence, it offers a glimpse of Google’s progress. I haven’t had a chance to download and install this build yet — I will do that on the same netbook I have running Chrome OS — but I can see features that weren’t there before. Hexxeh’s “Flow” build adds in his own customizable menus for organizing web apps , automatic updates, hardware accelerated support for Nvidia’s ION graphics solution, webcam support and battery life improvements, to name a few.

While I don’t know exactly what the Chromium OS communited added vs what Hexxeh included to the build, I’m not sure I care. Even if all of this was added by one individual — and a 17-year old one, at that! — it means the underlying framework of Chrome OS to support these features is coming along quickly. But is it quickly enough?

The competition that Google’s Chrome OS will face isn’t just the existing netbook market. It’s also the smartbook sector and I’ve argued that Apple’s iPad may have already cornered that market before it really starting to provide shipping products. And those iPads are due to start shipping around the end of next month. Now that Google and its Chrome OS partners know this, do you think they’ll be meandering around and working on products for year end shipping? I wouldn’t if I were them. I’d be trying to build the best mobile environment I could in as little time as possible — exactly what it sounds like Acer is reportedly doing. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start hearing announcements from Google’s hardware partners by May, which is one month after the iPad with 3G is due to ship.

If device availability isn’t on Google’s side, at least the pricing should be. I can’t imagine any Google Chrome OS devices costing $499 or more, which is the base model starting price for Apple’s iPad. And price is often a differentiator, although Apple is known as a premium brand and will offer a full application ecosystem with the iPad. Google’s Chrome OS is built on a Linux kernel, but the intended use for the system is for browsing and web-based applications.

As a current or potential netbook / smartbook owner, when do you think we’ll see a Google Chrome OS device? Does the introduction of Apple’s iPad have any influence over what you might buy or do you see that as a completely different type of device?

Image courtesy of Hexxeh

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  1. I would concur that we might well see devices out there with Chromium OS mid-year. It is just a *NIX software build after all. I would like to imagine that what Google is working on, is a rock solid mechanism for securely updating the software on an ongoing basis.

    I am a Nexus One owner of one month. I am smitten by Google. I will wait however for the right hardware device (right interface, feel, quality etc). As importantly though is direction of the software and devices. I want the device in my life (controlling my heating and my telephone and my ….).

    I will wait.

  2. I think we’ll see a Chrome device even before Google might be ready. Like we’ve seen Android netbooks also. I think anything with a keyboard is fundamentally different than the touch-only iPad. It would be interesting to see what sort of Chrome devices come up and if they will be dual-booted with Windows or with MeeGo. MeeGo might be a big competitor to Chrome if they can both be easily installed on the same hardware.

  3. Sascha Pallenberg Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Acer will show an Aspire One with Chrome OS at Computex in June. It’s kinda predictable cause they love to get some attention (remember the Android netbook last year at Computex). The problem is, Chrome OS won’t be ready, it’ll still be in Beta. So this is all about being the first and having some momentum. Where is the Android Aspire One now? Noone is buying it, cause Android just makes no sense on a netbook. It’ll be different with Chrome but i am doubting the huge success on the netbook market. Let them grab some 5-10% of the market in the next 2 years. 70% will be Windows and the rest is for various Linux distributions like MeeGo and Jolicloud.

    1. Given your location and proximity to the pulse of this sector, I was hoping you’d chime in Sascha. :) Agree with your comment on the Android Aspire One — last summer I questioned that entire approach from Acer. I too think it will be different with Chrome, but do you consider Google’s approach only to have impact on the netbook market or might some potential smartbook owners go with Chrome OS? Actually, is there much of a difference between a “netbook” or a “smartbook” running Chrome OS — probably not. ;)

  4. Google will release the os in beta. but it doesn’t matter, because one of the nice features for chrome os is that it updates itself everytime the computer is closed or opened.

  5. Doug Mohney – HD Voice News Monday, March 1, 2010

    I think you can fragment/split the portable device space into so many slices before the pie gets too thin for anyone to “taste.” But people will try.

    You’ve got laptop, netbook on the higher end (higher performance/higher weight, smaller UI/lower weight) and smart phones on the other end (least weight, smallest functional UI).

    So the tablet people, Smartbook, and dedicated Chrome are all seeing how much they can slice the “middle.”

    Do you really think all three types of devices will survive/thrive?

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