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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 like the Chrome OS and think it has great potential. There is very little that cannot be accomplished by using a web app now a days. What I would like to see and what would get me to go out and buy a Chromebook would be if they offered a tablet/notebook version. Something with a full touchscreen that could be used as a tablet closed or opened and use as a notebook. I like the idea of it being anywhere from 10-14in in screen size. This would be a great alternative to those that don’t want a Ipad or Android Tablet. While I think Tablets are great entertainment devices it is hard to be productive without a keyboard and carrying around a tablet and a stand and a keyboard is just too much. Also with touchscreen I think we can start to think about doing away with the trackpad on the laptop. Just my two cents.

  2. Andre Goulet

    An EEEPad Transformer and keyboard will add a universe of functionality over a Chromebook, hands-down. I think that is the simple, insurmountable problem with Chromebooks. They have a tiny little niche market, nothing else.

  3. I hope HTC will build a Chromebook. I had a Samsung and thought it flimsy, and and two Acer’s (which were much better in every way) … but all 3 had no sound! Must have been a software glitch. Though I got immediate return credit on all 3 from Amazon because the defect was obvious, I’m without a Chromebook. :( I have an HTC phone and think they’re the best smartphone manufacturer by far, and would probably make a great Chromebook. Please do it HTC! :)

  4. The problem with the HTC Shift was that it used the archaic Intel A110 as it’s CPU. Given it’s worse performance than a single-core Atom, there was no way I would attempt performing any multimedia tasks, despite the very portable form factor and hardware sliding keyboard.

    Now if the guys at HTC have brains, they’ll pair the next iteration of Atom (Cedar Trail) with Windows 8. Putting those two in the same sub-10 form factor will make for a phenomenal personal multimedia and productivity platform.