First, Google was preparing to launch its own Google-branded smartphone. Now, there's a Google laptop on the way?
That's the plan, according to TechCrunch (Techmeme). Michael Arrington wrote:
"Google has, according to multiple sources, been talking to at least one hardware manufacturer about building a netbook for Google directly. As in Google gave the company a RFP with quite detailed technical specifications and has begun discussions on building it."
This netbook would, of course, be running the Google Chrome OS, which is expected to debut in 2010.
If the Google netbook rumor is true, then 2010 could be the year Google becomes a hardware company. In fact, if the company successfully markets both a smartphone and a notebook, you might even call it a consumer electronics company.
Computer hardware is a brutal business that has to be managed with great instincts and a lot of discipline because of the razor-thin profit margins. Google is smart enough to know that, so we're likely to see Google continue to use partners like HTC (who is reportedly making the Google Phone) to build devices according to Google specs.
Since Google now owns one of the most powerful brands on the planet, it would certainly make sense to use that brand to sell its own hardware and to influence the computer and smartphone markets in ways that benefit Google's mission and business model.
However, Google will also have to be very careful about the hardware products that it releases so that it does not tarnish its brand name with products that don't live up to the expectations of consumers - and, as always, anything Google does will be burdened with high expectations.
See also: Podcast: Will the Google phone be subsidized?
The other interesting factor here, which Arrington noted in his piece, is whether a Google netbook would run an Intel chip or if it might buck the netbook trend and go with an ARM processor, which wouldn't have as much raw computing power but is far cheaper and has better battery life. An ARM-powered Google netbook at under $200 could release shockwaves to shake Intel, Microsoft, and Apple.