Chrome OS delay a 'good marketing decision'

Google's move to push release of its Chrome OS-based devices to mid-2011 will help the platform gain market relevance while allowing its optimized-for-tablets Android 3.0 to corner market, note analysts.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Instead of pitching another operating system (OS) into the nascent mobile computing space dominated by its Android OS and Apple's iOS, Google's decision to delay the launch of Chrome OS-powered devices has been lauded by analysts.

Matthew Cheung, principal analyst at Gartner, said that compared to 18 months ago when traditional PC makers were constantly talking up netbooks and how the form factor was all the rage, today's consumers demand tablet devices manufactured by both PC and mobile phone makers alike. To capitalize on this, Google has unveiled its tablet-optimized Android OS 3.0, codenamed Honeycomb, to corner this market, he noted in an e-mail.

He also reckoned this trend of computing mobility and connectivity via tablets will continue for some time yet, which means the delayed launch of Chrome OS-based devices is a "good market decision" and not a negative sign.

Chrome OS is a browser-based system that does not tax the device in terms of battery life, allows for extremely fast boot-up times and provides security with no local data or locally installed applications. Google had pushed back its projected launch date for the OS from late-2010 to mid-2011.

Waiting for right moment
"The delay of Chrome OS-enabled PCs will make the platform more relevant to the market [once it is launched] but is not detrimental to its long-term objective," Cheung said.

Daryl Chiam, senior analyst at Canalys, concurred. In a phone interview, he told ZDNet Asia that Chrome OS has "a lot of work to do" to live up to its hype. A seamless user experience that syncs between one's online and offline world, in particular, needs to be nailed down before the platform is released, which could be why Google delayed its launch, he speculated.

Furthermore, he cited the fragmented Android app ecosystem where there are multiple app marketplaces as a cautionary tale for Chrome OS. Chiam said that while there are some people who like the openness and choice afforded by the open Android ecosystem, most users prefer to flock to a de facto app store with a simple-to-understand payment model.

Developers, too, would be more prepared to develop for Chrome OS once Google improves on its Checkout payment mechanism, he noted.

Google appears to be heading in that direction, as its Chrome Web Store released in December 2010 is currently the only platform serving up Chrome OS-based Web apps.

The search giant has, in the meantime, made available a number of Chrome OS-powered notebooks to companies and individual users that had been accepted into its pilot program to generate interest and momentum.

Identifying Chrome's potential
Yet, Chrome OS is not without its naysayers. An earlier report by ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET called into question the relevance of devices powered by Chrome OS in the hardware scene of 2011. According to the report, the tablet device is here to stay and device makers focused on challenging Apple's primacy in the tablet market are committed to adopting Android, not Chrome, as its main operating system.

Malik Kamal-Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, however, begged to differ. He said in an e-mail that Chrome OS "has never been meant for mobile devices but designed to compete with existing desktop OSes and to work atop advanced CPUs".

Like Cheung, Kamal-Saadi noted that Honeycomb is the OS Google is using to target the portable multimedia devices such as tablets and smartbooks, which in turn eliminates the need for Chrome OS in this market segment.

Chrome OS, meanwhile, could potentially be a good contender to Microsoft Windows and Apple's Mac OS X in the notebook and netbook arenas, he noted. Both Redmond and Cupertino's offerings are desktop-centric OSes that "does not have connectivity in their DNA" and the majority of apps developed for these OSes are native while Web apps are browser-based and make use of plug-ins to access hardware resources, the analyst added.

On the other hand, Google's browser-based framework is designed to provide natural support to the connected Web environment today's consumers live in, Kamal-Saadi said.

"As computing is increasingly evolving toward the cloud, [the] Web and connectivity will become essential in the way apps are designed and distributed," he noted. "This trend will make legacy OSes [such as Windows and Mac OS X] less successful...[while] Chrome OS is well-positioned to fight in this new environment."

The analyst also acknowledged that the Web as a development environment and cloud computing are still in their "embryonic development stage", which allows Google plenty of time to tweak and improve its Chrome OS to align the platform with market developments. Chrome OS, predicted Kamal-Saadi, will "unlikely be ready for market adoption before 2012".

At its end, Microsoft is not taking the threat Chrome OS could pose to its existing Windows business lightly. In January, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced that the next version of Windows will be available on ARM chip architecture.

ARM-based chips are used in the majority of mobile devices such as Apple's iPad and various smartphones, and Redmond's decision to adopt the architecture signals its intentions to compete strongly in the mobile computing space in the near future.

Editorial standards