Will it turn out to be a glitzy butterfly or a boring moth?
Right now it's hard to find anything to get excited about in Google's Chrome OS, says Nick Jones, Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst.
Google has half-heartedly announced Chrome OS promising that it will arrive some time mid next year; a few lucky US citizens will be able to register for a pilot programme to help iron out the bugs. It's hard to analyse Chrome OS in detail because we have a lot of hints and promises, but little solid information. However, based on what's been said so far, I'm disappointed. My concerns include:
1. It's late "Mid next-year" means well after the CES tradeshow in January when we expect a flood of Android tablets, not to mention tablets running platforms such as Meego (which I still expect from Nokia unless CEO Steve Elop kills the MeeGo initiative). I see Google's recent announcements as something of an act of desperation to keep Chrome OS on the radar screen even though it's far from ready and facing too many competitors.
2. Users will be massively confused Imagine you're a non-technical buyer in a shop mid next-year. You'll be faced with dozens of devices all having screens covered in little icons which look pretty much the same and do the same things. Confused? You bet. The retailer's sales staff will likely be equally confused trying to differentiate between them. Yes sir, they all browse the web. Yes sir, they all have an app store. Yes sir, they all play video, run Skype, display ebooks, have a zillion games... How will Chrome OS be differentiated? If you can access all the Google cloud services on any device with a Chrome browser why buy a Chrome OS device?
3. Is Chrome too narrow-minded? My impression is that Chrome is designed as a Google accessory, not a device to participate in the ecosystem of other gadgets which I own. Questions like "can I plug my iPod into it?", "can I unload the pictures from my digital camera onto it?" and so on don't seem to be addressed. Not being a PC or a Mac has some advantages, but there are lots of disadvantages too when looked at from a wider perspective. Chrome looks a bit like a device aimed at the last generation of the connected world, not the next generation of the connected world.
4. Chrome is infected by the cloud fallacy It looks as if Chrome is cloud-obsessed, with offline operation as a bit of an afterthought. Google seems to assume that most of us will have a perpetually connected, fast, low latency, affordable wireless pipe. As if. This is both wrong (even here in the UK where I live) and narrow-minded because it makes Chrome a product for Western mature markets only. Buyers in emerging markets with poor connectivity won't be able to play in the Chrome world. Even in mature markets there will be problems because I expect cellular connectivity to become less reliable with more constrained data caps for several years until LTE becomes ubiquitous.
I wanted to be more impressed by Chrome, and I'm disappointed that I can't find much to get excited about. The world doesn't need yet another mobile platform. I hope by the time it finally emerges from its chrysalis it will have become more of a glitzy butterfly than a boring moth.
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