As 2010 winds down, it seems unlikely that Google and its hardware partners will launch any Chrome OS netbooks this year.
Last week, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said Chrome OS netbooks won’t be available for the holidays, but the company’s spokespeople aren’t as candid, telling TechCrunch, “We’re not going into details at this point.” MG Siegler guesses that we’ll see the cloud-based operating system in beta this year, with actual retail products in early 2011.
And that’s fine. Chrome OS needn’t be rushed to market. Google should take all the time it needs.
There’s been a lot of Chrome OS skepticism over the last year, mostly because Android has been a big hit, and because tablets are hogging all the buzz that netbooks once had. Not surprisingly, Google’s been downplaying Chrome OS’s touch screen potential, stressing that it’s meant for traditional laptops, and possibly desktops.
With that in mind, arguing that Chrome OS missed the boat misunderstands what the operating system is trying to accomplish. Of course Android was an overnight success; the smartphone and tablet markets are exploding, so there’s room for everyone to grow. Case in point: Android handsets accounted for a quarter of the smartphone market last quarter, according to Gartner, but that didn’t stop the iPhone from doubling its sales over the last year.
If Chrome OS’s goal is to disrupt Windows and Mac OS X, it’s going to be a much slower burn. To be a success, the cloud operating system needs constant connectivity and enough awesome Web apps to make people forget about installing software. The former won’t really be possible until 4G networks are everywhere, and the latter is going to take a long time as Google builds the Chrome Web Store and services like Google Cloud Print. The OS has little to gain by launching early. (Windows 8, which could sync everything to the cloud, is a couple years away.)
You could argue that Android and iOS will continue scaling upwards, and eventually mobile and desktop operating systems will merge as one. At that point, can anyone really predict what’s going to happen with existing operating systems? For now, Google has capitalized on the smartphone boom with Android while experimenting with what it thinks is the future of computing. No need to force the latter.