I have written about Google’s Chromebook in the past, and I don’t think I hid that fact that, besides being a Google fanboy, I became a believer in the Chromebook concept. It just works, and its interface is dead-easy to pick up and go with. The Web is just about everything these days, so it seems like a straightforward idea.
But the Chromebook isn’t perfect. If Google is really serious about making inroads with the general consumer, I believe it has to do several things first.
- Chromebooks are overpriced. Yes, easy for me to say since I obtained a Cr-48 for free from Google, but I have looked at the offerings from Acer and Samsung. And they are overpriced. The problem is that the 3G + WiFi models sell in the $429 to $499 range, whereas a full Windows notebook with better specs and more capabilities would be comparably priced (or worse, be cheaper). Since you can also run Google Chrome in Windows, the advantage of a Chromebook is not immediate for a consumer. Chromebooks need to be in the $250 range to make a serious dent.
- Google needs to integrate cloud storage into ChromeOS. There are already rumors of Google prepping a Google Drive service, but it needs to get here. Now. My Chromebook has 16GB of space, but Google wants everything to be in the cloud. While I keep all of my documents in Google Docs, there are other files that I wind up downloading locally because, well, that’s just how it is. I would like to back this up, and while I have a Dropbox account, it’s not directly integrated with Chrome OS. Yes, there are extensions for this, but a seamless, elegant solution is what Chrome OS needs.
- Put the webcam to use. The webcam is criminally under-utilized on Chromebooks. You can use it for Google Talk and… that’s about it. Part of the problem is that Google has taken Flash (which a lot of sites use to talk with webcams) and tried to make it more secure by sandboxing it in their own iteration called Pepper. Which helps with performance on the Chromebook, but broke webcam detection for most sites. And this has been an issue for months. There are ways around this, but Google needs to step up and finally fix this. The webcam is a major component for Chromebooks but is currently crippled. Which doesn’t help when Joe User buys a Chromebook and complains because he can’t use the webcam, but he could easily do so in Windows or Mac.
- Need apps STAT. I get that websites are the apps in the Chrome OS universe, but the problem is that they’re not quite there yet. There are some sites like Picnik, which is great for editing photos, but a lot of other “apps” in the Chrome marketplace are really just bookmarks. And it’s silly. There are few that have real, offline capabilities- and the ones that do come to mind are made by Google themselves. Depending on websites isn’t completely reliable, either. There was one site that offered video editing (record from your webcam and upload and edit!), but that site was purchased by RIM (of all people) and now no longer accepts new users. One hurdle for Chrome OS adoption is that users of certain heavyweight applications such as Photoshop or video editing tools have no real online options. The Web and tools just aren’t there yet. Google needs to work on this and foster some sort of real Chrome OS app ecosystem- not just a series of shortcuts. In fact, they could take a cue from Joli OS, which touts a webcentric approach (built around Chromium as well) but allows Linux apps to be installed, such as OpenOffice.
- Offer their payment option plan to the general public. Google is offering to business and education customers an option to pay $20 a month (for a 3-year commitment) for a Chromebook. This included the Chromebook itself, but also support. I think this could be a huge opportunity for them to offer this more widely. Sure, the long term cost for the Chromebook would be something like $1,000, but most people only look at the short-term cost: $20 a month is easy, and the support that comes with it is a boon. The biggest thing is that there would be no upfront costs, which would entice a large number of people. It’s an opportunity to draw people in, cheaply, and make them see the value of a Chromebook. In this economy, $20 is more than doable, it’s probably beneficial for a lot of people.