What's the first application you open when you turn your PC on? The chances are it's the browser. We ran a poll among our Facebook and Google+ fans and 99% respondents said the browser was the first app that they would open. I am curious how many of these users use the 'rest' of the PC?
End Of Desktop PCs? Chromebook Is The Future Of Home PCs
The fact is a majority of PC users never needed a general purpose PC in the first place.
They wanted something to browse the Internet, to check emails, to connect with friends, to access online content, to buy tickets online and many such online activities. Some of these users may also need an app to create documents, spreadsheets or presentations. They may want to see photos from their cameras, watch movies or listen to songs. That's all they need from a PC – nothing more.
That doesn't rule out those users who want general purpose PCs to do gazillions of different crazy things – such as film or audio editing, image processing, software development and much more. These users need powerful PCs, the ones that are generally available in the market, for a heavy price. They need these PCs, but those users who we talked about earlier were also buying these general purpose powerful PCs, which they didn't need. They were using a rocket engine to push a shopping cart.
That's one of the reasons devices like iPads or Nexus 7 have become so popular. They have given those users exactly what they wanted and not some bulky, general purpose PC.
Google is trying to create another class of devices which caters to those users who don't need anything but a browser.
Are there users who need nothing but a browser?
When you are not wearing your developer or designer hat what do you do on your PC? Which app do you use most of the time? Which app does your family use to check Facebook or email or to watch movies on Netflix?
My mother-in-law has a HP Windows 7 machine and all she uses is the Google Chrome browser. She stays online all the time, watches C-SPAN, reads news on The Drudge Report and Gtalks with the family. That's all she needs. She spent around $1,000 to get that laptop and all she uses is a browser.
I remember my previous job as a journalist. We used thin clients running Fedora to file our stories; sales and marketing teams used in-house applications via a browser to file reports. My niece uses her PC to do online research and file her term papers. You will find so many use cases where the only application people use is a browser. You will find a huge population of PC users who live inside a browser.
This is the market Google is tapping with the Chromebooks.
Chromebooks have been around for a while but they failed to capture any market. The reason was obvious – they were too expensive for a browser only device.
The wild success of Nexus 7 has given Google the strategy they needed for Chromebooks. From today onwards you can order a 32GB Chromebook for only $249.
That's dirt cheap.
Even if you have a Windows PC or a Mac, a $249 secondary device won't hurt. We have couple of devices but all my wife uses is her Chromebook. The interesting thing that I found was the more you use it the more you realize that you don't need your bulky bloated PC. My wife used to be a Mac user, I converted her to Ubuntu and now she is a full time Chromebook user. Interestingly, when she was on Mac or Ubuntu she would often call me to fix something that was not working but ever since she swicted to the Chromebook here 'support' requests have come down to zero.
There is nothing that can go wrong in a Chromebook.
So, it's not just a secondary device. It holds all the potential to become your primary device. I have seen a lot of use-cases where Chromebooks can be the only device, I have given some examples above.
What Google Plusers Say?
I approached our Google+ fans and asked them the advantages they see of a Chromebook over Windows or Mac.
Eduardo Robles said, “Chromebooks are basically Google-centric and Google provides plenty (not all, but plenty) of services for all kinds of users. Windows eventually becomes a burden for users because of malware and bloatware. Windows is too much of an OS if a person just needs a simple interface to get online and use some online services.”
Robles also pointed out that “A Chromebook beats a tablet simply because it has a keyboard other than that the simplicity is equal to that of a tablet.”
That's very much true. If you do a lot of typing or browsing, you do need a keyboard and a track-pad. You can buy a keyboard and mouse for your tablet but then the cost goes up and you end up with so many devices to carry around.
Another Google + fan James Pakele also sees huge potential for Chromebooks, “I can send it with my son to college and not worry about constantly having it fixed because him and the house mates watch porn with it... I can give one to my old aunt that just wants to FB and not have to worry about viruses... Ask a lot of tech people if they would want one, they'll say no... Ask them if they want their FB, YouTube surfing family members, that always bring their virus ridden machines to their house to get fixed, to have one, undoubtedly. Enterprise use case here too, especially if the business has adopted Google Apps...”
But It's just a browser! No really.
Google has a very tight integration with its Google Play service. The Google Play Chrome app allows user to access their Google Play Content on their Chromebooks. The app description says:
A one-stop shop for all your favorite entertainment.
Music, movies, books and Android apps and games are now all in one place, always accessible from the web and your Android devices.
With millions of songs and books, thousands of movies and over 450,000 apps, there is whole world of entertainment for you to discover, buy and share. You can read, listen and watch all your favorite content anywhere you want. No software required, no wires or syncing needed and no storage costs. Just pure entertainment and the power of the web.
So a Chromebook is a powerful, and dirt cheap, entertainment device.
One of the greatest advantages of using a Chromebook is that it's maintenance free. Google keeps your devices updated so you are always running the latest and greatest version of Chrome OS. In addition to this ease of use, there is nothing that can go wrong on these devices. There is nothing a user can mess with in this device.
What I Desire
I have found a lot of useful apps that extend the functionality of Chomebook beyond just being a browser. There are apps like InstallFree Nexus with LibreOffice which runs instances of LibreOffice inside the browser so you can work on your documents. There are apps like Pixlr which can be a good alternative of Adobe Photoshop for image editing. Our Android Editor Neil Lund has been using this app exclusively for creating images for his stories.
What I miss is an email client which allows me to manage mails from different email IDs. I also miss the lack of some offline apps as I can't be confident of carrying Chromebook as my primary device if I am stuck in a no-Internet zone.
One serious problem that I noticed with Chromebooks has less to do with Chromebooks but more to do with Google's service. Google Docs can't handle Microsoft's OOXML files very well. Many times I will get spreadsheets or docx files and Google Docs won't be able to open it correctly. I had to use a PC or a tablet to work on those files. I have written about it in detail here and I do hope Google will improve the user experience and support for open documents formats across its services.
Beyond this there nothing to complain about Chromebooks. If you are considering buying one, I will heavily recommend it.
$249 is dirt cheap, get one today!