Where I Think Google Went Wrong With Chromebooks

chromebook price tag

We’re living in exciting times for computing. There’s this ubiquity that’s forming where the lines are blurred between what’s a web browser, an app, and an operating system, and what’s a computer, a tablet, a phone, an e-reader, a gaming machine, a television, etc. The announcements from Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, and the like seem to be coming at us fast and furious. It’s pretty awesome that we’re right in the middle of it all.

While Google has a huge horse in the race with Android, they seem to be taking a much bigger risk with Chrome OS, their cloud operating system, and Chromebooks, the computers that will run Chrome OS. I’m about as high as one could be on a browser-only operating system. For one, I’m a web developer so I’d love to see the world running exclusively on web apps. I’ve also been using Chrome OS almost daily with the CR-48 test computer I received for having LockerPulse featured in the Chrome Web App store.

The CR-48 is a great little device. It’s a solid backup computer for me – I can do email and light work – and it’s a great device for quickly looking something up or browsing the web when my primary laptop isn’t booted up. I can also see it being used by schools, in kiosks, and by businesses for certain employees that don’t need much more than email and docs.

Google sees it the same way. Which is why I was baffled at the pricing when it came out. Very few people in their right mind are going to pay $400 – $600 for one of these things (or $28/mo for a subscription). You can get a pretty powerful Windows 7 laptop for that price that can do a ton more. Sure Chrome OS has a few advantages in terms of simplicity and security…but it’s still just a freaking browser. The advantages that Google thinks it has aren’t that big of advantages for most people in most situations, at least not compared to giving up every application on their computer. I think it’s safe to say that most people who use computers somewhat regularly rely on programs outside of the browser.

I look at us as just one example of a company who could consider buying a Chromebook. Our next hire will be spending most of their time answering customer service emails using our new system. Perfect candidate for a Chromebook right? Wrong. They can’t utilize our synchronized text expansion, and they can’t use Skype, two things I consider critical to their job. There are also a few other applications that we prefer everyone has on their computer if they need them. So, even though they’ll be in the browser 95%+ of the time, those other applications are critical to their productivity. Which is why we’d rather spend $500 – $1k on a decent Windows 7 laptop instead of $500 on a Chromebook that can’t run those programs, even if it means I have to spend a day configuring the computer and installing the software.

This OS is largely a bet on how we’ll be computing in 10 or 15 years, that the browser will become so robust that it doesn’t make sense to develop any local applications. That may or may not happen, it may or may not be too late for them to make this push already, but the real important thing that the Chrome OS team doesn’t seem to get is that that time hasn’t come yet. You can listen to music in the browser and edit photos and the like, but it’s not something that everyone is used to doing, or even wants to do.

What I’m really trying to get at is the same thing that I mentioned when I reviewed the CR-48: to get people to adopt this, the price is going to need to be low. Really low. Despite what Google might think, it’s the best advantage they can bring to the table. Back then I said sub-$300, but now I think we’re talking sub-$100. This thing would have to be $99 for it to even have a chance of getting mass adoption. My partners and I might think twice if, all of a sudden, we’d only need to spend $99 for each employee. That might be enough in the long term for us to switch to Google Chat and for me to write a Chrome extension for our text expansion!

Instead of having Samsung and Acer upgrade the CR-48 tech specs, they might have been better off just keeping costs low and selling something basic, simple, and cheap like the CR-48. They might have had to take a loss in the short term if they want the OS to exist in the long term, something I’d think Google could afford to do. Otherwise, I think people are going to continue to buy Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices en masse and fail to see why they’d pay $500 for a browser.

9 comments on Where I Think Google Went Wrong With Chromebooks

  1. Rob says:

    Yeah, I do think they’ve missed the mark somewhat – it is quite steep. It seems to me that you can’t do a whole lot more with them than on android, and that in fact for a lot of people, If they can get by with a chromebook, they can probably get by with a smartphone (especially if it has a laptop style dock, like the Motorola Atrix…

    • Adam McFarland says:

      You can arguably do more on Android, especially if you have a larger screen phone or a tablet (or the Atrix). You’ve got the browser, plus everything else the OS can run. I really think the only chance Chrome OS has is cheap cheap cheap. Unfortunately it seems like they’re not going that way…which to me means they’ll probably pull the plug on it by 2012.

  2. Lemon says:

    I’m using a cr48 as well. I use exclusively now that my quad core year-old laptop died. It’s great, but I thought pricing would be around 150-220$. It’s a shame because it’s a great product and now is a perfect time for Google to get a major foothold in the browser market.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks for the comment Lemon. That’s pretty impressive that you’re using the CR-48 exclusively. I definitely enjoy using it as well. It is a great little machine…which is what makes it all the more frustrating that they’re pricing the Chromebooks so high.

  3. […] this back to my last post about the Chromebook: if the Chromebook was a $99 computer it would begin to make sense for everyone to have […]

  4. Mike H says:

    Adam,

    I’ve not seen a Cromebook up close and personal but from the Google info and your descriptions I have to agree with you. As an example, my daughter has an XO One Laptop per child that we got a few years ago. To be honest, the charity giving was the main draw back then, but it works ok. Now though, she’s big on Facebook and texting but the XO just doesn’t seem to draw her in anymore. Instead it’s her phone and a Windows 7 that’s usually on in the kitchen (which also allows her to do papers and such with Office).

    I think the Chromebook has to look at something like Barnes & Nobel’s Nook color as its competition. Android powered for quick on, great size, WiFi, good web browser, Android app and Flash support, etc. all for $249. From talking to customers at B&N they clearly, at least to me, describe their needs/uses as what the Chomebook could be/should be aiming at. There’s no way these folks would pay $400-$600 just a web browser. The Nooks are selling very well as a digital book reader with extra features.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks for the comment Mike. Good point on the Nook. I didn’t even consider that as a competitor, but it is. A much better value at $249 for most people in most cases. And if they need a computer, they can get a Windows 7 computer sub-$500 that allows you to do everything.

      By the way, I also bought one of the XO computers, mostly for the give-one-get-one program as you mentioned, and that thing is barely usable unfortunately. Good for the students who will get one, but not very practical.

      • Mike H says:

        Adam,

        One more bit on the XO… the real pearl I think they missed was connecting kids. My daughter really wanted to know and chat with the child who received the other XO purchased. She assumed she’d have a pen-pal somewhere in the world. Too bad they missed that great opportunity (ignoring the pain in the neck the XO is to use).

        • Adam McFarland says:

          Totally agree Mike. From what I recall it was supposed to work better in the actual classroom where you could do things like that. Not sure how well it did though

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