Archive for October 20th, 2010

The portable computing market today, and Chrome OS

Currently, there are four distinct ways to do desktop-ish computing on the go, and soon there will be a fifth way too. I was wondering this morning which one best suits me.

– Laptop (Mac or Windows, average price $500)
Pros: Optical drive, large hard drive, larger resolutions, lots of RAM/speed, able to run most heavy apps.
Cons: Big and heavy.

– Hybrid laptop/netbook (Macbook Air, MSI, few others, avg price $800)
Pros: Thin and small, like netbooks. Large resolutions.
Cons: Not as fast for heavy apps like full laptops are. Mac variant is expensive.

– Netbook (usually running Ubuntu, average price $300)
Pros: Small and light, while still having a real keyboard.
Cons: RAM capped by Intel at 2 GB, slow CPUs for the kind of OSes it must run.

– Tablet (iPad or Android, average price $500)
Pros: Lightest/thinnest. Best user interface.
Cons: Not all the kind of apps exist for tablets, input method is a bitch.

– Chrome OS (Chromium OS, average price possibly less than a netbook(?))
Pros: Small and light, while still having a real keyboard (according to Engadget)
Cons: Only good for browsing, and select few simple apps.

So it all comes down to what kind of apps you want to run. At the end, it’s about the apps. If you want to run a video editor on the go, then you need a real laptop. If you want to just do some browsing, plus some simple office work, and if you travel a lot for work, then a netbook is best. If you just want to browse, then Chrome OS might be the best choice, since it might also be the cheapest. And if you want to do some specific actions in a more natural way, e.g. book/magazine-reading, maps, sky-gazing and other exotic stuff, in the smallest package possible, the tablet is the answer.

Personally, I’m thinking that either an MSI hybrid, or an iPad tablet are closest of what I would want to do with a portable device. But tablets are still not quite there yet for me. I’d need a real user filesystem in iOS (without it, certain apps can’t exist properly as they can on Android). But then again, Android is not ready for tablets either (both Lenovo and LG made a point about this). So I’m thinking that next year, when the new iPad comes out, if it has the additions I need (e.g. user filesystem, web cam, an internal SDHC reader), I’ll go for that.

We were discussing with JBQ the other day what his needs would be for a new portable device (he currently uses a 4 year old 14.1″ DELL laptop running Ubuntu), and we established that he doesn’t use any kind of app or feature on that laptop that couldn’t be done with Chrome OS (e.g. text editor, calculator). Originally, I felt that Chrome OS is a bit too thin in features, but apparently there are people who need no more than what it already offers. In fact, my mother wouldn’t need more than that either! Chrome OS should be able to do GTalk video chat too (via the Linux gtalk-video plugin), which is the only “advanced” thing she would need anyway! And that should be at a price she could afford, compared to a tablet (since Chrome OS shouldn’t need more than 4 GB of internal storage).

If I was to make a prediction, I’d say that netbooks are going the way of the dodo. There will only be laptops, few hybrids, tablets. In my opinion, the only thing Chrome OS has for it, is its potential lower price. The “login to your personalized desktop from any Chrome OS computer” is a commendable goal, but by going clean slate it also means hard times for users that might want to extend their desktop experience. Also, as tablets will become cheaper too, and will already have thousands of real, powerful apps, I don’t personally see Chrome OS going anywhere in the long run. In fact, I could easier imagine a future where Android extends its already existing “personalized saved data” to Google’s servers and essentially providing a similar experience from within any Android handset/tablet, rather than seeing Chrome OS getting thousands of apps — written in JavaScript — that are not complete jokes (I still can’t get over the mental shock of the original iPhone JavaScript apps — remember those? Yuck.).

I guess, what Chrome OS needed, was to be released in late 2007, just before the netbook boom. Then, it could possibly stand a chance, as it would be seen as an innovative novelty.