Earlier this week, Google blended its Chromecast device with Chrome OS software, introducing what it calls a Chromebit. The small stick of a computer plugs into the HDMI port of a display and supports an external keyboard and mouse. Google says the Chromebit will arrive from its hardware partner Asus this summer and cost less than $100.
It's a clever approach that doesn't just take advantage of the same form-factor as its Chromecast streaming stick but also replicates another aspect: A low price. Granted, you're not getting the latest and greatest x86 chip inside. Instead, Google and Asus worked with Rockchip, which supplies a quad-core ARM-based processor for the Chromebit. Also inside the device are Wi-Fi (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.0 radios, 2GB of memory and 16GB of flash storage.
My colleague Larry Dignan was quick to point out that the Chromebit is similar to Intel's take on the PC on a stick: The company debuted a $149 Compute Stick in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. Unlike Intel, which says the Compute Stick is "business ready," Google is aiming the Chromebit at students and educators, although I'm sure some consumers will be interested as well.
I think it's a mistake for Google to overlook the enterprise and small business here, however.
Both computing sticks address a key aspect of any company: Controlling costs. It's far less expensive to hand employees a plug and play HDMI dongle than it is to lease or buy laptops, desktops and other costly computers. Sure, employees will need a monitor, keyboard and mouse for either of these new computing devices, but in the case of a company that uses workstations, these should already be available.
Depending on the type of business, laptops certainly make sense. In another lifetime, I managed the deployment and support of laptops for a national mortgage company. Those laptops and their 56k modem cards helped keep the sales force productive when mobile.
The technical help desk I was responsible for in a different role, however, would have been well served by a smaller personal computer. We had shared workstations for different shifts at that time and the sign-in process to run roaming profile scripts and such wasted several minutes a day. Multiply that by each employee and you have a significant amount of unproductive activity.
That same situation with a portable PC that you just plug-in, though? There's opportunity to reclaim that wasted time because a Chromebit or Compute Stick already has the personal data of an employee, plus any locally stored user data. Best of all, it can be used anywhere there's a monitor, keyboard and mouse available; perfect in the example of my help desk shifts.
Neither of these devices will work for a truly mobile workforce. Nor will a Chromebit be of value if you have legacy applications or don't rely on web-based services. Obviously, you have to choose the right tool for the task. If those tasks can securely be done on a low-end computing stick, maybe there's no need to renew those laptop leases the next time they come due.