Can a Chrome OS Tablet Make It Without Apps?

By  |  Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

The list of present, future, and speculative iPadversaries I compiled last week wasn’t comprehensive–for instance, I didn’t include Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. And it’s growing more incomplete every day. Download Squad, for instance, is reporting a rumor that Google and Verizon will release a tablet on November 26th. Unlike the scads of Google-powered tablets that will run the Android OS, this one is supposedly powered by the still-unreleased Chrome OS.

I don’t know if there’s anything to Download Squad’s story, but it would be stunning if Chrome OS didn’t wind up on one or more tablets in the next few months. When Google announced the OS thirteen months ago, it looked like a glimpse of one potential future for personal computing. But the intended hardware–clamshell case with physical keyboard–no longer feels like it’s part of the next wave of anything. And another aspect of the OS–its dependence on the Web–feels like it might be part of the next wave after the next wave, not the immediate future.

The obvious point of reference for a Chrome OS tablet is the iPad. But from everything we know about Chrome OS so far, there’s one crucial point of differentiation: iPads are all about local apps, and Chrome OS (like the JooJoo) is designed to subsist entirely on Web apps. (Google is readying a Chrome OS app store, but the apps in question will all live on the Internet.)

If Verizon is involved with a Chrome OS tablet, it’ll presumably have built-in 3G connectivity, which means that the notion of it living off Internet services isn’t completely screwy. But I’m convinced that when it comes to mobile devices, apps are where it’s at–for the next couple of years, at least–and that a platform that doesn’t even try to play catchup with Apple’s iOS would be operating at a severe disadvantage.

Your thoughts?


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15 Comments For This Post

  1. @anujahooja Says:

    I heard about this tablet earlier today and at first I thought it was pretty cool but eventually I realized exactly what you did – no local apps! Meaning without a 3G or WiFi connection, the tablet is useless! The data plan would have to be quite large and the that just makes a tablet more of a liability in the end. Unless Google finds a way to localize web apps, I can't see this working at all..

    With that said, I really hope Google plans on releasing a home-grown Android tablet like they did with the Nexus One.

  2. Kevin C. Tofel Says:

    Very valid question and while I'm in general agreement with you Harry, two things to consider.

    1. Chrome OS isn't just a browser, but is a browser built on a Linux core, so there is potential for apps. Google mentioned this back in January when discussing the integrated media player that should ship with Chrome OS:

    2. Connectivity is slowly going away as a requirement for web apps with HTML 5. Granted, a connected app is the norm, but not necessarily the future. And to be fair, we're a long way from that disconnected future, but I thought it worth a mention.

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    There's obviously no -technical- reason why Chrome OS can't run local apps, but my sense so far is that Google has been pretty hardcore that it won't, except for whatever standard ones are bundled. It'll be fascinating to see if that holds true…

  4. Deranged Shaman Says:

    I absolutely agree, Google said to be after the netbook market which by the way is on a decline according to Asus ceo, my question is who will purchase a chrome OS tablet/ netbook other then the enthusiast?

  5. @wolfmank Says:

    The Chrome browser can be pointed at local files as easily as it can server based ones, and I think a tablet is what Chrome OS was conceived for ( I never liked it on a netbook)

    however… I think price will sell this.

    If this comes out cheap off contract and free on contract and has the Verizon FIOS streaming and Netflix streaming and etc… no one is going to care/notice that it's all cloud based, at least until you get out of range 😉

  6. randypeterman Says:

    Google Chrome has support for local storage (it's an HTML5 standard). Therefore you can write 'offline' web apps. If you sell your app and it is an offline app that just happens to be able to use online data it is effectively a local app. I think this is a lot of concern over something that isn't a concern in an HTML5 ecosystem. Of course the other problem with offline web apps is securely storing local data between two different (unrelated) accounts (Gmail for me and you if we both log in should not give us cross-account access).

  7. Daniel Cawrey Says:

    I still think that there is some use for Chrome OS devices that have a keyboard in the form of a netbook/laptop form factor. Even some Android phones have full QWERTY keyboard for people who dislike touchscreens, so why wouldn't a manufacturer release a device for writers as well as one for hardcore gamers?

    Think of it like this: web applications leave a pretty open landscape for whatever people want to do with them. It's up to the manufacturers to fill those niches instead of creating a one size fits all computer. This strategy is done to some degree with Windows-based machines, but could be improved.

  8. Erin Says:

    I absolutely agree that if there are no native or local apps for users to download and use (without 3G, or wifi), the Chrome OS tablet will run into problems–after all, consumers love apps, even if they end up being more of a tech fad in the long run.

    But I think it's important to consider how people are using iPads– predominantly to consume content organized into aesthetically pleasing, easily navigable apps! Take, for example, publications like Popular Mechanics (which has an incredible iPad app)–the content works much better digested as an app, and the formatting resembles a magazine template much more closely.

    ALSO– games as apps– yes, there are plenty of online gamers, but with native apps you can (and should be able to) play games anywhere! (Not just where you can pick up a wifi connection).

    But, all things considered, I'm afraid that @wolfmank makes a VERY important point: apps or not, if the price is right, the chrome os tablet will sell like hotcakes!

    Still, I'll be sticking with a tablet that supports this functionality (even if I have to shell out the $$ for it)!

  9. Bob Says:

    serverless apps(hosted on google cloud) and native client and 3d in the browser, those are the keys to chrome OS.

  10. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    There are no native apps, but there are locally-installed Web apps. I'm not sure what the point of their app store will be if all of the apps in there are not local. If they are not, their app store is just a paywall.

    However, iOS runs those same locally-installed Web apps, and they are maybe 1% as popular as native apps.

    Ultimately, what you're getting in Chrome OS is a Unix kernel and an Apple WebKit browser. That is the free subset of iOS and Mac OS. You've been getting a Unix kernel and WebKit browser on all Apple devices other than classic iPods since 2003. But that is not typically the reason people buy the devices per se. That provides great Web browsing and Web apps and great security and stability and multitasking and networking, but those are all "steak" features that users sort of expect. The sizzle is things like iMovie (on Mac or iPhone) or 3D games, or FaceTime, or iTunes, or how great the video experience is on iPad, or Netflix, or Hulu Plus, or iBooks.

    I think what will matter with Chrome OS is not the technologies, but rather the quality of the implementation and experience. Users don't care if apps are C or HTML5, they care if they are awesome or not.

    But I use a number of iPad apps that simply can't be done in HTML5. I probably spend half or more of my iPad time in apps that can't yet be done in HTML5. That's why I think Apple's strategy of providing the best mobile native app platform and the best mobile Web app platform side-by-side is so good. You can pick any app running on any platform in the world, and bring it to iOS either as native or Web app in a practical way and it will shine and users will love it.

    Also, sort of interesting how much hell Apple got in 2007 for iPhone being "closed" because developers couldn't use the same native C tools that Apple was using. Yet Google has no native apps on both Chrome and Android (3rd party Android apps are Java apps that run in a virtual machine) and nary a whisper of complaint about their closed C platforms since both are Unix and so both have C platforms.

    I'm looking forward to trying a Chrome OS tablet, but the bar is really high. I like my iPad so much I'm thinking of getting a second one and having 2 iPads. They are just ridiculously useful.

  11. Bob Says:

    maybe you should study a little about native client, basically they are running native apps in the browser. This should ensure all the 3d games run properly in the browser. The native apps need to be recompiled of course, but of course google says it is a small thing. Facetime is not a big deal, gmail already has video chat from the browser as of today. Most of the users are anyway on facebook, I am not too sure if most of the users care about all those games except for a small subset maybe. I am not sure what is difficult in viewing netflix, hulu plus or google equivalent of ibooks(google editions I believe) on a browser.
    And the reason iOS webapps are not popular is because Apple has never promoted it, Apple always promotes native apps, it is in all their ads, whereas their webapp store is not in any ads.
    Browser itself is a native app and all the bells and whistles of the hardware is available to the browser (except for things like camera GPS which I believe is coming soon).

    But think of this, a tab will have an app, so all you need to switch to a different app is to go another tab, now how cool is that.

  12. Ryan Patterson Says:

    I remember another OS that was originally announced as only supporting web/Internet based apps. . . the original iphone OS!

  13. Limerick Says:

    I'd be curious to see what apps you have on the iPad that "can't be done in html 5". HTML 5 is remarkaaaably versatile. I'm sure there are some things that can't be done, but, I think HTML5 is more versatile than you think. Take this entirely HTML5 app for instance:

    As for local apps, HTML 5 local apps, as mentioned by several users, are most definitely supported. Some apps may end up written as web only, but, that's the developer's choice.

  14. refinish hardwood Says:

    if it follows the same pattern as Android, Chrome v 1.0 will probably be a little weak on the local side and then Google wil beef that up in 2.0 and later … in general Google likes to put out v. 1.0 products that really aren't complete yet.

  15. Places to visit Says:

    I remember another OS that was originally announced as only supporting web/Internet based apps. . .