At The World’s Most Important Gadget Show, One Of Google’s Biggest Projects Is Surprisingly M.I.A

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[credit provider=”Ellis Hamburger”]

For the second year in a row, Android is all over the Consumer Electronics Show.There will be sleek new Android tablets from Toshiba, Acer, and Lenovo. The latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, will probably debut on a bunch of phones.

Android is also finding its way into TVs, including one from Lenovo that runs Ice Cream Sandwich directly, as well as through all those new Google TV partners that Google announced last week, including Vizio, LG, and Samsung. (Google TV is based on Android.)

But Android isn’t the only Google operating system.

Remember Chromebooks? Those inexpensive laptop computers that run Chrome OS, which is basically a Web browser masquerading as an operating system?

There’s no mention of Chrome or Chromebooks on the official Google blog about CES. And the Chrome blog doesn’t mention CES at all.

Maybe we’ll hear something later today, when Samsung has its CES keynote. Or maybe Google is just playing it quiet.

But don’t count on it.

Chromebooks aren’t selling well — a recent report in DigiTimes put the number at less than 30,000 this year.

That’s perfectly understandable. They have never made much sense as an alternative to cheap Windows netbooks — they can’t run the millions of available Windows apps and you can’t plug in peripherals like printers, MP3 players, or (most) digital cameras. They also don’t compete very well with Android tablets — they’re not as portable, lack the cool factor of a touch screen, and can’t take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of apps that developers have built for Android.

They’re not even competitive as a cheap device for developing countries — there’s already a $40 Android tablet in India that’s flying off the shelves.

Maybe Google can still push Chromebooks as a very low cost (how about free?) add-on to Google Apps for extremely price-sensitive organisations like schools or government agencies.

But as a consumer device, they’re dead in the water.