Google unwraps first Chromebooks, details Chrome OS

The Chromebooks will be produced by Samsung and Acer, feature dual-core processors and go on sale in June, while new Chrome OS functionality has been detailed for the first time

Google used its San Francisco I/O developer event on Wednesday to announce the launch of its Chrome OS and partners' Chromebook devices.

Google I/O Chromebook demo

Google announced its first commercial Chromebook laptops on Wednesday at its annual Google I/O conference. Photo credit: James Martin/CNET News

Describing the modern laptop experience as one where "you have to deal with all the legacy decisions made over the last 20 years", Chrome chief Sundar Pichai said Chrome OS was a rethinking of the end-user experience, focused on notebook PCs. Calling the result 'Chromebooks', Pichai suggested Google was "bringing mobile computing to the world of notebooks".

The company's Cr-48 pilot programme had over one million applicants and thousands of devices were shipped. In a press session on Wednesday, Google co-founder Sergey Brin described Chromebooks as "a new model of computing that wasn't possible a few years ago, and still not possible on phones and tablets".

"It's a much easier way to compute," Brin said. "There's no need to set anything up, no time for overhead in my life. You can toss the old one and pick up a new."

Kan Liu from the Chrome OS team demonstrated new Chrome OS features, including the ability to save files for later use, and a built-in media player with USB drive support. Showing how Chrome OS works with SD cards, Liu introduced a set of new APIs that allows web services to expose their functions as file handlers, saying: "This opens up the world of offline files to the web."

Chrome OS will also improve its offline application support, with new offline-capable versions of Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs due this summer. Pichai also announced that there will be support for enterprise applications from Citrix and VMware.

Google Chromebooks

Pichai then unveiled the first production Chromebooks, with a 12-inch device from Samsung and an 11-inch from Acer. Both use the familiar notebook format, with dual-core Intel processors and all-day battery life, along with Wi-Fi and 3G support. Available in eight countries, including the UK, on 15 June, the Samsung device will retail at £349 for a Wi-Fi-only version, and £399 for a 3G version. Acer's US pricing will start at $349 (£214). The company has not yet announced its UK pricing.

The complexity of managing computers is torturing users, and is a flawed model. Chromebooks are a new model which doesn't put the burden of management on yourself.

– Sergey Brin, Google

Google is also working on what it calls a Chromebox, a simple desktop device that connects to existing keyboards, mice and monitors.

The company will also be launching two subscription programmes, described by Pichai as "mixing software- and hardware-as-a-service". Focused on reducing IT complexity, the programmes target the business and education markets, and provide full warranty support with a centralised management console.

Available as three-year contracts, Chromebooks for Business will cost $28 per user per month, with Chromebooks for Education costing $20 per user per month. Google application subscriptions will be sold separately. Google will be using this model internally, and Brin noted that the company expects it to "improve productivity, security and reduce costs".

"The complexity of managing computers is torturing users, and is a flawed model," Brin added. "Chromebooks are a new model which doesn't put the burden of management on yourself."

Pichai also discussed the future of the Chrome web browser and Google's work on HTML 5. Demonstrations included new speech APIs and Google's GPU-based hardware acceleration for CSS Transforms, Canvas 2D and WebGL.

Vikas Gupta, from Google Payments, unveiled a new set of in-application payment tools for the Chrome Web Store, which he described as "payments in context, without breaking the experience for users".

Google will charge a flat rate of five percent for in-application payments. Google intends the Chrome Web Store to support a wide range of applications, and Rovio's Peter Vesterback demonstrated a web version of his company's popular Angry Birds game.

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