We’ve already covered the benefits of Chrome OS and cloud computing extensively. But as you can guess by the title of this article, this article is going to have a negative tone. I’ve been playing with the Chrome Cr-48 for a week now. While there are many features that are cool in theory, I don’t think many consumers would actually buy a Cr-48 if it were on store shelves. Sales of other Chrome OS notebooks, slated to hit shelves beginning mid-2011, will fall flat unless a bunch of bugs are squashed and people stop snapping digital photos, recording videos and buying iPhones.
There’s certainly plenty of room for improvement and it may take a company like Google that’s not invested in the status quo to completely re-think the desktop OS. But what about the tradeoffs?
People don’t like compromises. Sure, the web is buzzing with thousands and thousands of people clamoring to get their hands on a free Cr-48, but I wonder if this would be the case if the price tag were $500 instead of $0. While Chrome is my favorite browser, Chrome OS asks people to compromise on way too much. Here are 10 reasons why consumers won’t buy Chrome notebooks if the Cr-48 is indicative of what’s to come from Acer and other partners.
1) No Applications
People will avoid Chrome OS notebooks for one of the biggest reasons they avoid MacBooks: Lack of Applications. A lot of applications have migrated to the web, but almost everyone has at least one application that they rely on for work or pleasure.
Popular desktop applications offer more functionality and richer user experiences than their web app equivalents. They’re often more intuitive and can be customized to fit the users’ needs.
Millions of iPhone, iPod and iPad users will shun the Chrome notebook since it won’t be able to sync with their iDevices. Many workers have to live in an app or two all day long. While there are some web equivalents, enterprises run specialized apps that aren’t yet available in the cloud. Running Microsoft’s, SAP’s, Oracle’s and other big vendors’ apps is impossible, unless you want to run them via Citrix.
I completely understand the premise of running apps in a datacenter instead of locally to reduce maintenance, but many of the arguments for thin-client computing fall flat when fully capable notebooks are very affordable.
2) No local Storage
The Cr-48 comes with a 16GB SSD that can’t be used to store media files. We’ve seen how the masses react to tiny drives in netbooks and other portable devices. They simply ask for more. It was only a couple of years ago that Asus, HP and others sold netbooks with 16GB of storage and people cried out for more room to store all of their files. Sub $400 netbooks and notebooks can now be had with 250GB, 320GB or 500GB drives.
Storage capacity is a major selling point at retail and I wish the blue shirts luck in trying to sell 0GB of storage against 500GB or more.
Storage is cheaper than ever and consumers simply expect to be able to store stuff on their machines. Sure, people enjoy accessing their photos on the web, but they don’t want to wait hours to upload a GB of photos to the web when returning from vacation before they can do anything with them.
3) The Chrome OS Browser Doesn’t Work Everywhere
There are plenty of web sites, including many government sites, that require Internet Explorer still. Many more will allow for Firefox or Safari. Most of those will also work with Chrome on a Mac or PC.
For example, the Cr-48 can’t play Netflix videos. Instead of being able to watch videos in the Watch Instantly section, Chrome OS users are greeted with a message about how they need to use OSX or Windows to stream movies.
With a Mac or PC, the simple answer to sites that don’t like your browser is to download another browser. You can’t do that with the Cr-48.
4) Too Much Dog Food?
The Cr-48 is a perfect case of making dog food for yourself. Many companies pride themselves on ‘dogfooding’ whatever they’re building before releasing it to the masses. By promising to eat their own dog food, they tell the rest of the world that their products are good enough for consumption. The problem with this concept is that technology ends up being built for specific product managers, software developers and other company insiders rather than the masses.
Google Chrome and the Cr-48 might be a passable solution if you work at the Googleplex, but it’s a hard sell out here in the real world. In Mountain View there’s plenty of WiFi (Free provided by Google) and Verizon Wireless towers. Googlers are issued Android phones rather than iPhones or BlackBerry smartphones, collaborate via Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office, chat over Google Talk instead of Skype, and ride private WiFi-equipped busses to work instead of catching public transit.
The best Chrome OS notebook customer will probably be Google itself.
5) Verizon 3G is Too Expensive
Google Chrome OS notebooks come with 100MB of Verizon mobile broadband for free every month. That’s not nearly enough for those that actually want to use the Cr-48, or its brethren outdoors, while traveling or hop-scotching around town on a regular basis. Many web pages take up over 1MB of bandwidth to load and you can forget about streaming media.
While I really do like the fact that Verizon service is contract free with Chrome notebooks, there are data caps. Fifty bucks for 5GB of data is standard fare these days, but there are two problems with this pricing structure. Computing purely in the cloud will eat through MB and GB much faster compared to mixing things up between local applications and the Web.
Those who can comfortably afford $50 a month for a secondary Internet connection are much better off with a wireless hotspot. You can opt for something like a MiFi from Virgin Wireless, a virtual network that runs on Sprint, if you want to go contract free.
Verizon’s ramping up LTE, its next-gen data network. Speeds are blazing fast and are probably much more suitable for getting large files up to the cloud. In fact, Verizon LTE is faster than many home and office connections. The wireless broadband card in Chrome OS notebooks is already obsolete. If you’re going to pay for wireless broadband you should get what you pay for. There’s not much of a price premium for LTE compared to 3G.
6) Graphics are Horrible
The Intel Atom processor and integrated graphics make for a horrible graphics experience. You can forget about streaming HD video on the Cr-48. In fact, you can forget about watching standard-def content full-screen on the Cr-48. Watching 480p YouTube videos isn’t doable, unless you’re really into stop-motion. We can only web experiences to get heavier and richer as hardware acceleration goes main stream. The average consumer would assume their Chrome notebooks were broken if they couldn’t perform a task as simple as playing a YouTube video.
AMD is set to release APUs, Intel’s talking about Sandybridge and NVIDIA’s powering netbooks and notebooks of all sizes with its graphics solutions. Media-rich sites and application developers are going to assume their users/visitors are using machines with decent graphics.
Nobody knows how much the Cr-48 would cost, but I’m guessing that Acer and other OEMs are still going to want to make some cash here. So will Intel, other component makers and oh yeah…Google. Like Android, Chrome OS is open sourced, which means Google won’t earn money from selling licenses, but I’m sure the company has plans to earn money from search, the Chrome Web store and other hooks.
A notebook of similar specifications and build quality of the Cr-48 would be in the $500-$800 range at retail. I don’t think people will spend that much on a notebook with the current limitations of Chrome OS. Something’s going to have to give in the price arena if Chrome OS is going to launch with much fanfare.
8) Minimal Peripheral Support
To talk about printing as a feature in the year 2010 is ridiculous. Like with everything else, printing is only supported via the cloud. You can forget about using your my favorite Bluetooth headset with the Cr-48. You can also forget about shuffling files back forth to your iPad. Need to scan some documents or photos with your fancy all-in-one? Good luck with that.
9) The Chrome Web store Sucks
It’s still early in the game, but so far I’m really not impressed with the Chrome Web store. The free ‘apps’ look almost exactly the same when using Safari or Firefox. All you have to do is punch in a url or two. Google Finance is a nice site, but calling it a web app is stretching the definition a bit.
As we’ve mentioned previously, Chrome Web app store sales are pretty much non-existant. In fact, a developer commented that the sales numbers were severely overstated.
Some of the web pages, such as Sports Illustrated Snapshot are artfully laid out, but most people will be annoyed at the $.99 fees for viewing photos that are available elsewhere. That might fly on mobile devices, but it’s much easier to find content and similar services using a desktop browser.
10) Macs and Windows PCs are Better
In a world without affordable notebooks, the Cr-48 is clearly a champ. The idea of a maintenance-free OS is very appealing, but not compared to what’s already out there. All of the cool features, such as the quick startup time and long battery life, are available now on other systems. These features will become much more widespread in 2011.
One big question mark about Chrome OS notebooks is price. In 2011 we’ll see more an more notebooks that are geared toward mobility for under $500 than ever before. If Google wants Chrome OS to succeed, Chrome Notebooks will have to be priced far lower than their Windows counterparts.
Google employees are issued ThinkPads and/or MacBook Pros. They’ll also get Cr-48’s as part of the Chrome notebook pilot program. I spoke with several Google employees outside of the Chrome OS group and NONE of them said they would choose the Cr-48 if they were only allowed one machine. Having multiple machines at your disposal is a luxury many consumers can’t afford. Most people still use ONE personal computer. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen under-spec’d netbooks fall by the wayside since they need one machine that does everything.
There’s nothing that you can do with the Cr-48 that you can’t do with a Mac or PC running the Chrome browser. You can even pick up where you left off if you use Google Docs, DropBox or any other number of cloud services.
I tried using the Cr-48 exclusively for a day a few times, but switched over to my MacBook Air within an hour on each occasion after hitting road blocks. What were those road blocks? Fairly simple things like having to upload/download files via FTP, add some images to my articles here on GBM and upload videos to YouTube.
Chrome OS notebooks will serve as decent secondary mobile machines, but the platform is simply half baked. There are clear advantages to Google’s approach of getting rid of common computing frustrations, but the cure is worse the disease. Those who don’t work and live 100% in the cloud will face a mountain of frustration using Chrome notebooks. In fact, I’d only advise those that use Google’s many services to bother using a Chrome OS notebook.
Google should seriously reevaluate Chrome OS and fold it into the popular Android platform unless it plans on growing Chrome OS beyond the browser. While Google’s insisting that Chrome OS is all about the browser, there is a chance that the first public version of Chrome OS is simply laying the groundwork for a full-blown desktop OS. I hope Google finds a way to make Chrome OS succeed over the long term since a third option would certainly put everyone on their toes.
You can read the other parts of the Google Chrome OS Cr-48 review here: