Google has announced that it is rolling out its Chrome OS notebooks to Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, France, and the Netherlands as of Tuesday.
The latest Chromebooks manufactured by Acer, HP and Samsung are coming to more markets in a push that many see as confirmation that Google is planning to merge the Android smartphone and tablet operating system with its Chrome desktop OS.
Chromebooks differ from ‘traditional' notebooks in that they use a suite of web-based applications rather than software installed directly on the computer's hard drive. By eliminating pre-installed (or any) software and by using a very basic operating system, installed on the processor, Chromebooks are quicker to load and boot up than a typical desktop or notebook computer and their processing and performance speed is dependent on the strength of the device's internet connection. And, as the applications are stored online, they are always the most up-to-date versions of those applications available. Chromebook users don't have to worry about downloading patches or application updates. The use of the Chrome internet browser to access the applications plus the fact that the applications are constantly updated also means that the Chromebook is the closest a typical consumer can currently get to virus-free computing.
However, since the first Samsung-built Chromebooks rolled out in 2011, they have failed to gain any meaningful traction in their initial markets, the US and UK. Google points to the fact that its Chromebooks dominate Amazon's best-seller lists in the US, but according to research carried out by Digitimes, combined sales to date are around the 500,000 mark. This gives the device's operating system a less than 1 percent share of the global notebook market. To put this into context, Apple sold 4.1 million Macs in the first quarter of 2013 alone (unfortunately, Apple doesn't differentiate between desktop and notebook computers in its earnings reports).
Still, Chromebooks are well-made, affordable computers and, with the recent launch of the Chromebook Pixel, a notebook with a high-definition touch screen and aluminium construction, Google is demonstrating that it can do premium as well as entry-level design. And, if the Chrome OS and Android are merged, then the Chromebook is expected to rocket in popularity as a device that seamlessly integrates with the user's existing smartphone, tablet and smart TV that offers the same services and apps on all computing platforms.
As Ben Bajarin explains in a Time tech piece: "Google has a large global developer base for Android but not yet for Chrome web apps. Chrome is designed to run only apps developed for the web, where Android is designed to run apps that are installed. Once these two development environments merge, developers will be able to design both Android and Chrome web apps with the same set of tools, consistency and unified application stores. Google, with its expertise in cloud services, could bring a cloud-based virtual Android environment to Chrome, perhaps giving us the ability to run Android in the browser, seamlessly, on all Chrome hardware."
The merger would also explain why the Chromebook Pixel features a touch screen as Android apps are all optimized for touch rather than keyboard or mouse input.
At the moment, Microsoft and Apple both offer very good levels of device interoperability. The iPhone and iPad dock and synch seamlessly with Apple computers and a number of mobile apps are also available as desktop widgets. However, Apple desktops and notebooks can't run actual iPhone apps.
As well as expanding sales to other countries, Google has also announced that in the US, where the Chromebook is slowly starting to establish itself, the devices will now be stocked by over 1000 Best Buy outlets.