Placing odds on a Google netbook, smartbooks at CES

Summary:It remains to be seen whether Google will sell a branded smartphone (though it seems increasingly likely), but after a day or two of all Nexus One, all the time, the world has moved on to rumors of yet another Google-branded device. TechCrunch reported that Google will release its own netbook in time for the holidays next year.

It remains to be seen whether Google will sell a branded smartphone (though it seems increasingly likely), but after a day or two of all Nexus One, all the time, the world has moved on to rumors of yet another Google-branded device. TechCrunch reported that Google will release its own netbook in time for the holidays next year.

There are a few reasons to be skeptical of this. At a Chrome OS press event last month, Google specifically stated it was establishing a "hardware platform" and working with computer makers including Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba. Google developers also said that they are focusing on devices with slightly larger displays and full size keyboards because of usability issues with netbooks, so any Chrome OS notebook is more likely to be something along the lines of the ultra-thin laptops (the ones that currently use Intel's ultra low-voltage chips or AMD's Athlon Neo X2). This is more a matter of semantics--there are plenty of 12- and even 13-inch laptops out there using either Atom or ULV processors.

That's not to say that Google won't sell their own Chrome OS laptop--regardless of what you want to call it. If the company has trouble getting major computer makers on board, it could go that route to jump-start things. The wireless carriers have opened up a new channel for bringing a laptop to the market. Perhaps Google will auction them off to the highest bidders. But considering Google developers concede that they are still figuring out basics such as, say, how to make printing work with Chrome OS, all this seems a little premature.

It is interesting to speculate however, as TechCrunch does, about what processor might lie at the heart of Chrome OS laptops. By side-stepping the issues with local applications, Google could easily opt for an ARM-based solution. The company has already stated that it is working with Freescale, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments so ARM is clearly an option. At an investor conference last week, Nvidia talked a bit more about an upcoming Tegra 2 chip, and that would certainly be an interesting choice. (The MIPS-based Xburst CPU from Ingenic Semiconductor that is reportedly in the $99 Cherrypal Africa netbook seems like a serious long-shot, though.)

Despite a lot of talk of ARM-based systems, we haven't seen a whole lot of smartbooks. Qualcomm recently gave a brief demonstration of an IdeaPad using its SnapDragon chip, but Lenovo hasn't announced it yet. Even Nokia's Booklet 3G is really a run-of-the-mill Atom netbook, though the design is very nice. After this slow start, I'm hoping to see more smartbooks using chips from the likes of Freescale, Qualcomm, Samsung, TI and Nvidia at the Consumer Electronics Show in a couple of weeks.

Topics: Google, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

About

John Morris is a former executive editor at CNET Networks and senior editor at PC Magazine. He now works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are... Full Bio

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