Photo: mhauri via Flickr
Google and its partners just cut the price of Chromebooks $100, to $299.They should keep cutting prices and make them free.
By giving Chromebooks away in a carrier-subsidized model, Google might just create something useful out of an otherwise unimpressive product.
We’ve been extremely sceptical about Chromebooks and the Web-only Chrome OS ever since Google unveiled them last fall. They do a lot less than traditional computers — you can’t run desktop apps, and a lot of peripherals like printers aren’t supported. You couldn’t even plug in a camera into the first versions. And they don’t have the cool factor of a touch screen tablet.
But after using the Samsung Chromebook that Google sent me for a few months, I’ve come to the conclusion that it could make a decent secondary computer for home use.
We keep ours in the kitchen. When we need to look up some information from the Web, like a recipe or a calendar event, or check our email, it’s perfectly fine.
It’s very fast. It’s stable. It has never crashed or hung.
(That’s a a sharp and welcome contrast with the Android tablet that Google gave me at I/O last year. That tablet, a 10″ Samsung Galaxy Tab, crashes and hangs almost every time I use it, regardless of which apps I’m using. It’s one of the most frustrating and least reliable computing devices I’ve used in years.)
But at $300, the Chromebooks are still not going to sell.
For $100 more, you can get the sexiest new computing device out there, the iPad. It’s got hundreds of thousands of available apps and is so intuitive that even babies can figure out how it works.
For about the same price as a Chromebook — $300 — you can get a Windows netbook. It won’t be pretty but it will run millions of Windows apps and work with tens of thousands of different devices.
For $100 less, you can buy a pretty decent tablet from Amazon, the Kindle Fire. It isn’t as pretty as the iPad and won’t run as many apps as the Apple or Windows devices, but it’s easy to use, comes from a trusted consumer brand, and has a good store of available content for it.
The only way Chromebooks will take off is if wireless data providers give them away for free and make the money by charging for data, just as they’ve done with phones for years. Google can encourage this by subsidizing the hardware to the point that OEMs like Samsung and carriers go along.
Google ought to stop pretending it’s trying to build a new revenue-generating business. The Chromebook will be a success if it drives more users to the Web where Google makes its money, and away from desktop applications, where Microsoft rules.