Tony Cripps, Principal Analyst of Ovum has shared his vision about Google's Chrome OS notebook. Read on...
Assuming its current creases can be ironed out, Chrome OS has several important characteristics that mark it out compared with other operating systems where access to Internet-based applications is a key feature. These potentially benefit users and application and content developers alike and include the following:
* Lower cost to the end user. With its very “thin” user experience (UX) and developer platform, and minimal reliance on locally installed applications and data, the overall cost of Chrome OS devices should be kept down through their need for less powerful hardware and fewer licensed installed apps and software components.
* Developer friendliness. With Google’s Chrome web browser as its only application platform there will be less need for application developers to learn vendor-specific technologies in order to reach Chrome OS devices and users. Web technologies such as HTML5 and Flash will suffice.
* Less scope for vendor lock-in. By lacking a “native” development platform Chrome OS has less potential for entrapping developers in specific vendor ecosystems, who will not (necessarily) need to pay platform owners to help distribute their apps. Meanwhile, users can enjoy multi-screen access to content and services without having to procure everything via a single provider.
If exploited to their ultimate extreme, these characteristics have huge potential to challenge today’s services and devices status quo. This is especially true of those vendors that have successfully used a managed device platform (MDP) approach (see Of iPhones and Androids: redefining the smartphone and other devices) to put themselves at the center of the user and developer experiences surrounding smartphones and other connected devices.
Undermines vertical integration; puts emphasis on cloud assets
Vendor control over the end-to-end software platform (in terms of device-side development tools, storefronts, and device OSs) creates a virtuous circle in which developers and users alike benefit from that control. However, the model begins to collapse where developers are enabled to reach any device directly through a web URL (although for UX reasons these URLs may be encapsulated in downloadable shortcuts that appear as “apps”).
This doesn’t mean that the benefits of an MDP approach in application distribution are no longer relevant. Rather, they are no longer strictly necessary. Indeed, given their proven utility, application and content developers will no doubt still wish to use channels such as application stores to distribute their wares in the same way that users will continue to use these channels to discover such content.
However, the balance of power would undoubtedly shift, placing greater demands on MDP providers to ensure the strongest collection of cloud assets and away from the device-specific application platforms that provide the focal point of these environments today. Is it a coincidence that Google is already promoting the synergy between its web-based Google Apps, the Google Apps Marketplace, and Chrome OS? We think not. (See Telecoms in 2020: devices and platforms for a deeper discussion of this phenomenon.)
Conflicting interests may still defeat Chrome OS
This does not guarantee that Chrome OS devices will be a success. For one thing, Google itself may decide that the “thin OS” approach compromises its own ability to exert control over sections of the content and applications value system. For another, developers and users may rail against Chrome OS if their experience of using it fails to live up to the expectations set by thicker, if still “lite”, platforms such as iOS and Android. That said, it is already the case that many apps on Android are already web apps with little need for native client-side technologies other than local data storage and access to selected Android platform APIs.
As such, Chrome OS is not just a real test of how far the web approach can be taken and whether it can live up to end-user demands. It is also a test of Google’s constitution and of the willingness of today’s big beasts to protect their investments. If Chrome OS doesn’t fly next year, expect it to be a memory by 2012.