Why a Google Slate Could Dominate

Next year is shaping up to be the year of the slate computer: Verizon Wireless (s vz) expects slates to come to market in a big way in 2010; Apple (s aapl) appears to be mere weeks away from introducing its much-hyped tablet, rumored to be dubbed iSlate; and a handful of Android-based devices are already making their way to retail shelves. Google (s goog) could move the needle with a rumored no-frills slate that would be available on the cheap — or even free — to users willing to sign up for 2-year data plans. And with its Chrome OS, the company is well-positioned to quickly become a leader in the space.

Like netbooks, slates have an obvious appeal, combining intuitive touchscreen interfaces with improved processing power and better screens than most phones can boast. Apple’s iPod touch has proven there’s a market for such gadgets. The question, though, is which operating systems are best positioned to gain traction as slate sales ramp up? Apple’s entry is likely to have either a full Mac OS X operating system or a modified version of the iPhone platform. Jolicloud, a startup that pocketed $4.2 million in venture capital earlier this year, is negotiating with manufacturers to package its impressive OS with their hardware. Moblin is garnering positive reviews for the latest release of its mobile operating system, which Kevin at jkOnTheRun believes is particularly well-suited for devices that are smaller than netbooks. Fusion Garage’s JooJoo is also receiving praise for its proprietary, Linux-based OS, although the gadget’s $500 price tag will surely limit its appeal.

The biggest winner in the space, though, is likely to be Google’s Chrome, as James at jkOnTheRun hinted last week. Google’s new OS is a natural fit for small mobile Internet devices, and the company has solidified the kind of carrier relationships necessary to sell subsidized devices through a wide variety of retail outlets. Apple, JooJoo and others may find an audience for high-end devices with price tags to match. But Google and its Chrome OS could absolutely own the slate space if the search giant can offer hardware for just a few bucks — but packaged with a lengthy data contract.

Image courtesy Flickr user nDevilTV.