Is Chromebook Google’s True iPad Competitor?

Having used the Samsung 10.1 Android tablet (running Honeycomb) for a number of weeks I can tell you conclusively that it doesn’t compete with the iPad. While the hardware is light and generally well designed, the overall software experience falls well short of the standard the iPad has established.

An Unintentional iPad Competitor?

Enter Google’s Chromebook: is this Google’s true competitor to the iPad?

Chromebook is certainly not positioned as a tablet competitor or alternative. But it may turn out that way for some people in the market for a second (or third) computer. There are a fair number of people who probably would prefer a machine that’s more PC-like than the iPad and still “ultra-portable.”

Beyond the MacBook Air, Chromebook is also the most iPad-like of PCs. It doesn’t offer on-device storage or software, there’s no desktop and it relies heavily on a growing library of apps.

Like a Tablet with a Keyboard

Chromebook is not unlike a tablet with a build-in keyboard. And it’s priced (some would say too high) in the same range as an iPad. The cheapest available Chromebook, from Acer, is $349 — a full $150 less expensive than the entry level iPad. At the high end, there’s a Samsung 3G version that retails for $499, the price of the WiFi iPad.

Some people have complained “why buy a Chromebook, when you can get a full-fledged PC for the same price?” In fact, on Amazon the top-selling Windows 7 laptop (the Toshiba Satellite) is $479. As Google previously argued Chromebook is unlikely to be a primary machine (except perhaps for students). It’s more likely going to be a supplemental machine for consumers.

I believe that Chromebook has a great opportunity in the enterprise as the realization of Oracle’s Larry Ellison’s “network PC” concept. But that’s a different discussion.

Mixed Reviews from Some

Early reviews of Chromebook have been mixed. Consumer tech influencers like USAToday’s Ed Baig and the New York Times’ David Pogue have praised it but also said mainstream users probably aren’t ready for the “internetbook.”

Pogue liked many features of Chromebook, but his conclusion was less positive:

It’s really weird to use a computer where everything happens in your browser; if you attach a hard drive or flash drive, you even see its contents in a browser window. You can never quit or minimize the browser; there’s no desktop behind it, no matter what your instincts say.

But let’s give this shifted paradigm a chance. How well does Google’s newfangled concept hold up in the real world? Unfortunately, not very well.

Baig similarly concluded that the masses weren’t ready for Chromebooks:

Chromebooks raise an important question: Are folks ready for a cloud computer largely crippled when there’s a shaky online connection or none at all? My suspicion is that will be a tough sell, especially for non-techies.

Solid Machine — with the Right Expectations

I received a Chromebook from Google as part of its I/O developer conference giveaway (the Samsung 3G model) and have been using it regularly for the past week or so. I like the machine quite a bit, in part because my expectations are properly calibrated to what the device can and cannot do well.

As with an iPad it would be challenging to write this post on a Chromebook (because of the screenshots primarily). But Chromebook is great for most things you do online, though it can’t run Netflix right now. And if you don’t expect it to totally replace your primary laptop your satisfaction levels will be quite high. The “instant on” capability is great.

Not Another “Netbook”

Chromebook isn’t just another netbook — a category that is largely in decline — because it’s simpler, with no software to install or upgrade and no delay in boot-up time. And surprise of surprises, right now Chromebook is the third best-selling laptop on Amazon. The inexpensive Toshiba Windows 7 machine is first, 13-inch MacBook Pro is second and Chromebook is third.

I had previously wondered whether Chromebooks had missed their window of opportunity with the arrival and success of the iPad. But it turns out the opposite is true: the iPad has laid the groundwork and set consumer expectations for Chromebook.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Features: Analysis | Google: Chrome | Google: Chrome OS | Google: Mobile


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Amanda Adolphs

    Great post, I’ve been trying to decide whether to get a new laptop or ipad. It’s a tough call as I would still use my PC at the office and probably only use the laptop/ipad or now Chromebook when I’m out and about.

    The Chromebook does sound really good but I’m a little concerned about the internet coverage in Australia. Thoughts??

  • John Blossom

    Actually, you could have done the whole review on a Chromebook – there’s a nice Chrome extension from Diigo available for creating and editing screenshots:

    I tend to agree that there is something about a Chromebook that makes it somewhat of a tablet competitor. Web apps are providing more rich functionality, offsetting some of the apps advantages of tablets, while the oversize touchpad on the Samsung Chromebook is almost like a tablet interface in some ways. Certainly with its rapid startup, relatively light form and long, long battery life it competes with tablets for leanback and mobile attention. While native apps give tablets some advantages, and we may yet see notebook computers that merge Android and Chrome capabilities, Chrome OS offers a highly bulletproof way to experience the Web that can work for consumers and enterprises alike. Give the Chromebook a touch screen and the argument gets stronger for it.

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