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Report: HTC may build a Chromebook. Should they?

Google Chromebooks aren’t quite the hottest selling devices, but that may not stop another manufacturer from building them.

HTC is the latest hardware maker considering to dip a toe in the Chromebook pool, according to DigiTimes, which monitors the Asian supply chains for mobile devices. Samsung and Acer currently build and sell Chromebooks, which are essentially Google’s Chrome OS(s goog) and browser in place of a full desktop operating system on a low-cost notebook.

At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much of a Chromebook market. Google doesn’t report sales figures, but the devices appeared to get off to a slow start. Earlier this month, DigiTimes estimated Acer sold only 5,000 Chromebooks in the first two months of sales, while Samsung sold even fewer. And recently, Google announced a price cut to $299. I know of some people in my geeky social networks who have purchased a Chromebook, but I’ve never seen one in the wild, nor do any of my friends and family even know what a Chromebook is.

Based on the lack of general interest in Chromebooks, I’m not sure what HTC has to gain here. If any hardware maker could build a Chromebook with an appealing twist, however, I think HTC is that company. Although it started out as a behind-the-scenes handset maker, HTC has built its brand recognition — and sales — over the past few years through innovative software enhancements and cutting-edge hardware. HTC has also shown it’s not afraid to take risks on new products, even in niche markets.

Think back to the HTC Shift for an example. Back in 2008 when hardware makers were trying to push 7-inch Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs) — tablets running Microsoft Windows(s msft) — HTC created the Shift as a solution for those who wanted a keyboard.

The 7-inch slate had a touchscreen like all other UMPCs at the time, but the display could be shifted up to reveal a small, but usable keyboard, for typing. The Shift used an Intel(s intc) processor and full desktop operating system, so HTC has the experience to build a Chromebook. And Google’s Chrome OS can also run on ARM-based(s armh) chips, which HTC uses for the tens of millions of smartphones it sells.

Clearly, HTC could build a decent Chromebook and even make it unique compared to those currently from Samsung and Acer. Yet, I don’t see much point. I like the Chromebook concept, but much of the functionality of such devices can be met with a low-priced netbook or even a tablet.

If you’re a Chromebook enthusiast, I suspect you’ll be happy to see HTC enter this market. But I’m more curious to hear from others: Does it make sense for HTC to build a Chromebook, or would the company simply be wasting its time?

14 Responses to “Report: HTC may build a Chromebook. Should they?”

  1. I have the Google CR-48, which is the evaluation unit of the Chromebook. This unit came with WiFi and 3G (with Verizon) and a 12.1″ screen. It looks similar to the Samsung Chromebook. When I need quick access to the web, I go to my Chromebook and not to my Windows 7 notebook. The unit boots up very quickly and unit wastes no time in Shutting down either. It is so quick and to the point, unlike when Windows 7 or XP you have to wait seconds to minutes to shut down or boot up. When I close the screen and open it up, the screen turns on right away. I would recommend the Chromebook if you’re on the Web most times and do your office suites online via Google apps or Zoho, or the likes, and if you still prefer the traditional notebook style over the touch screen tablet. The Chromebook has apps for the Chrome OS if you have specific application needs.

  2. Two things:

    1) I’m actually really surprised after Honeycomb bombed so bad that a couple of companies didn’t port ChromeOS onto a formerly Honeycomb tablet. I would be interested in a full browser instead of the not-quite-full browser of Android.

    2) I think the thing that could potentially set the Chromebook market on fire is when geeks learn that a Chromebook is EXCACTLY what their dopey, computer-illiterate parents need. Never fix another computer at your parent’s house again. Google has poorly targeted the market for the Chromebook.

  3. Yes, I hope HTC builds a Chromebook. The Acer and Samsung models are nice, but it would be nice to diversify the product line. Chromebooks are not selling that well NOW, although after the price cut Amazon sold out of the Acer model in a few hours. Chrome OS is a new concept and Google needs to be in this for the long haul for it to succeed. I have a Samsung Series 5 Chromebook and it has become my primary computer. I haven’t used my Windows laptop in a long time. The Chromebook boots faster, opens right into the browser where I spend nearly all of my time anyway, has a much longer battery life, requires no maintenance for updates, and is immune to viruses.

    • Travis Henning

      That’s the key question, is Google in it for the long haul? If Chrome OS gets a tepid response (as it currently seems to be) will they stick with it? Or will they cast it aside as they’ve shown quite willng to do to other services in the past? For this reason alone, I’d be hesitant to invest in the service if I were a small biz or school.

    • Hi Gary, I am seeing signs of Chromebook adoption at companies and schools. One of they key requirements for many of these organizations is access to legacy Windows apps. I came across this solution that provides this functionality, it enables browser-based access to apps and desktops, it’s called Ericom AccessNow: http://www.ericom.com/html5_rdp_client

  4. I have a CR-48 (free test version of a Chromebook Google shipped out) and love it. It starts up in 5 seconds and I’m off to work. They are great for education and any other situation where people would be sharing it because there is nothing stored on the device. HTC could make a really nice one and probably sell a bunch.

  5. Given the less than stellar sales of Chromebooks by Acer and Samsung, you have to wonder why anyone else would seriously consider that market.

    HTC can do what they want with the hardware to make a Chromebook different, but they’ll still be using Chrome OS, which, I think, is the problem. When I first heard about it, I thought it sounded like a great idea. After I got a CR-48 and used it for 4 or 5 months, it didn’t seem so spectacular and it’s now happily running Linux. Yeah, I gave up the 8 second boot and now I have to wait all of 20 seconds for the machine to start up. In return I get a real file system and the ability to install whatever I want on the machine, to customize the OS as I choose, and so on. In other words, it’s now a real computer instead of a browser.

    I don’t quite understand the comment that “much of the functionality of such devices can be met with a low-priced netbook or even a tablet” when either of those devices (and particularly a netbook) offer *more* functionality than a Chromebook.

    I do think that there’s a market place for these – mostly people who just want to turn on the computer and browse the Web. But given the lack of sales, Google is evidently not getting the word out to them.

  6. The reason why Chromebooks are selling slow is because they are priced too high. If HTC can market them in the ~$200 price range they will sell like hotcakes.

    The fact that you can’t “see the point” doesn’t mean that HTC can’t sell a ton of cheap touchscreen Chromebooks for people that would love a nice little mobile cloud-surfer to supplement a real computer.

    The market is there -but not for $300-450. Prices will come down, and the buyers will line up. They just aren’t going to bite at full laptop prices.