I’ve been watching the connected device trend develop for the last ten years and it’s just now starting to get interesting. What happens to the device market from here will depend a lot on the established players in the PC industry.
When I say “established players” I don’t mean Microsoft, which is meeting the Chromebook challenge the same way they met the Android challenge; by signing deals with hardware manufacturers to pay them off to avoid patent litigation. Chromebook supplier Wistron recently signed a deal to pay the Microsoft patent tax on Chromebooks and there will be others. You’re already paying the same Microsoft patent premium on Android devices.
That is an unsustainable business model for Microsoft that also seems a little pathetic. Sticking to it will ultimately leave Microsoft as relevant in the technology world as Kodak is in the world of imaging.
Connected devices like tablets and Chromebooks are at a clumsy stage in their own development. Chromebooks are not quite replacements for a full size laptop or desktop but they’re powerful enough for 90 percent of the routine tasks most people perform on their larger computers.
It’s that last 10 percent that’s going to determine whether connected devices become the standard or we all face up to buying a new generation of laptops. Right now the last mile for Chromebooks are applications like Illustrator, Photoshop and heavy video editing and rendering in applications like Premiere Pro. Chromebooks just don’t have the juice to run big apps and the native applications are still a ways off. A lot will depend on where development goes at places like Adobe, which is heavily invested in the desktop market.
Productivity applications, like Word and Excel, are starting to fall to cloud alternatives although adoption is irregular. I’m not counting productivity apps in the 10 percent of applications keeping people chained to a laptop.
Hardware manufacturers have seen the disembodied hand writing on the wall and jumped into the device market, but it’s low-end hardware. The hardware limitations almost seem designed to protect the manufacturer’s own laptop and desktop market. So far only Google has dared put more punch into Chromebook appliances but the pricetag will certainly discourage many people from even considering a high powered appliance which is a little like being able to brag about having the fastest go-kart in town.
For the moment, Google’s Pixel is the fastest go-kart in town but with its sleek aluminum construction, boot up times measured in seconds and high definition monitor it shows what Chromebooks are capable of being at a time PC and laptop manufacturers may secretly want them to go the way of netbooks. Chromebooks, and the concept behind them, are very disruptive to the big hardware and big software models that have been around for decades.
Google knows that and isn’t standing still to give anyone a chance to corral Chromebooks to serve the status quo. Development for Android and native applications for Chromium OS are flying ahead and the features of an online operating system like instant backups, cloud synchronization, automatic updates and integration of Google services are already compelling features that can only improve in the days ahead.
The real sea change will come if Adobe releases functionally competitive cloud versions of their popular image editing and video editing software. If they wait too long that runs the risk of watching their market share be eaten away by more nimble competitors.
For now most of us are still juggling a smartphone, which we use increasingly more often, a laptop or desktop, which we use less often and are loath to carry, and some assortments of tablets, netbooks or e-readers. What you’ll be carrying in two years and what operating system it will be running is still up in the air, but what is certain is you will have more functionality in fewer devices.