Where Is The Chromebook Trend Going?

gallery-trackpadI’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.

The First Five Apps You’ll Want For That New Chromebook

clearly

It may be a bit presumptuous to just assume you’re going to get a Chromebook, but really why wouldn’t you? For the cost they’re nearly disposable and the function goes far beyond the price tag.

Lightweight with battery life measured in hours, the Chromebook that fits easily in a backpack or computer bag and is useful at times you just don’t feel like dragging out your full size laptop and waiting for it to boot. Thrifty on power and bandwidth, Chromebooks will be useful for many commuters, students and road warriors.

It’s not what the OS does that makes the device useful, it’s the applications you can run on the device and Chromebooks have a world of useful apps. Here are the first five you’ll want to install.

Evernote Clearly

Evernote is bookmarking on steroids and a must for anyone using the web for research. Clearly uses Evernote’s cloud storage to store articles, pictures and notes and make them available on any device. What you make like better is that with one button tap Clearly strips away all the web page clutter and makes it easier to read.

Any.Do

any_do

We covered Any.Do in our review of productivity apps and your new Chromebook wouldn’t be complete without it. Be more organized and productive by keeping your todo list in front of you all the time.

 

Pandora

pandora

Pandora is a nifty service that lets you pick the kind of music and artists you like and it creates a music stream based on your preferences. I picked blues rock and was met with classics from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Joe Bonamassa. As a bonus Pandora includes the lyrics, though singing along with your headphones on has never gotten anyone discovered.

Kindle Cloud Reader

kindle_reader

The Kindle Cloud reader opens an endless world of ebooks. The Cloud Reader is still a work in progress and offline reading can still be a little tricky.

 

 

 

Save to Google Drive

chrome

If you recently purchased a Chromebook it automatically comes with 100 GB of Google Drive storage. This extension adds a button to save web pages, photos, media files and documents. Keep all your work backed up and safe while you’re on the go.

Chromebooks are not a substitute for a full size computer for many tasks, but for making notes, managing your schedule or reading a good book on the go they’re invaluable. I expect many people will try one at some point.

The Pixel – Google’s $1,300 Chromebook Web Appliance

pixel-copySporting a sleek, stylish design and the most impressive stats you can imagine for a web appliance, Google launched The Pixel to largely negative reviews in the mainstream tech media.

A mere 16.2mm thick and weighing in a tick over 3 pounds the Pixel sports a 13 in display with a .55mm layer of Gorilla Glass bonded to the screen. The keyboard is backlit and the trackpad is made from the same hardened glass as the screen. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the dazzling 2560×1700 resolution screen with almost five hours of battery life at your disposal.

The biggest ding on the The Pixel seems to be that it has limited utility when not connected to the internet. Other criticisms, like the limited utility of the touchscreen, are common to notebooks and laptops as Microsoft discovered with Windows 8.

While there’s a temptation to pile on Google for creating an over-priced web appliance with limited utility, I would remind readers that the likes of AT&T and Comcast mocked Google Fiber when the concept was first announced and yet there are people praying to Google shrines across the country, pleading for the day when Google’s internet and entertainment service is available in their area.

If you look across the technology landscape internationally, the trend toward internet appliances is very much intact, particularly in countries like Japan where the appliance trend started. While this product may be a bit out in front of the market in the U.S., I’d be willing to bet that the future of laptops and notebook computers look more like the Pixel than the laptop you have on your desk today.

Still, when you can get a MacBook Air with a 13.3 in display for $200 less, I’m going to guess the Pixel is going to be, at best, a niche market product with limited potential for sales. All the same I’m keeping an open mind; the tech landscape is littered with the bodies of companies underestimating the big G.

Netflix Coming To Samsung Chromebook

Netflix_API2_512

 

Google and Netflix have partnered up to bring Netflix streaming goodness to the $249 Samsung Chromebook. When it’s going to happen is the same answer the Red Lectroids got when they asked when they were going to Planet 10 in Buckaroo Banzai – real soon. Exciting, but not terribly enlightening.

The interesting aspects from the technical side are the road Netflix chose to adapt the service to Chrome OS, choosing to use Google’s Native Client, also called the NaCl SDK, which allows portable native C and C++ code to run in the browser. A recent update to NaCl allows code to run on x86 or ARM. For Netflix it was a good choice: Two birds, one stone.  It will give their service a wider reach on an expanding universe of mobile devices.

For the future this offers the potential to stream Netflix on almost any tablet, phone or connected device so you won’t have to wait for the latest episode of House of Cards.