Thursday, October 18, 2012

The New Chromebook

I commend Google for hitting the $250 price-point on the new Chromebook. No matter what your opinion of the Chromebook, that's a cool achievement. I think their vision for this device is ultimately kind of like what Jeff Bezos' vision for the Kindle is: the thing will be free. We'll just hand you a Chromebook because we know once out of every hundred searches you do with Google, you're going to give us $8 by clicking on an ad for refinancing your mortgage (e.g.).

Except, as much as the geek/gadgeteer side of me wants to grab one of these just to have it, I cannot for the life of me figure out why I would.

Buying a disposable toy tablet like an iPad is one thing. With the iPad, you know what you're getting into... this is a device that will never supplant your laptop or your phone. It's more like a slick toy/consumption device. The kids love it. Yeah, it's nice for browsing around while you have "The Bachelorette" on in the background. Neat. But even if the device is fairly unproductive overall, there is a clear place and time for that device to be used. It fits a niche.

The Chromebook, not so much.

I'm typing this on a Macbook Pro Retina (I'll review that at some point). My wife uses a Lenovo Thinkpad. My prior 4 laptops have been Macbook Pro 15" supplied by workplaces, and before that, high end Dell and HP laptops. Even my kids use a 2008 Macbook Pro I bought off a friend.

I would never buy a Chromebook because what's the case for me to use this? I have laptops coming out of my ears. I don't need a less powerful one.

So... what's the use case for this Chromebook? What is the value proposition for the consumer?

  • Netbooks are (were?) around $250 and ran Windows and Office, this doesn't.
  • I bought a used Macbook for $75 from my friend.
  • There are Macbook Pros galore on Fleabay for under $250.
  • Don't even get me started on the cheapness of desktop computers, Linux, etc.
The consumer can buy a Chromebook for $250 and be locked into Google's web based life, or they can choose any one of these computers that aren't limited to browser-life.

So let's go back to this value proposition... what are Google's selling points here? Paraphrasing some:

  • It's always up to date. So is Chrome on my kids' $75 Macbook Pro. And Office. And Firefox. And iTunes.
  • It's cheap. So what, so are the above options.
  • Always connected. So is my Macbook Pro.
  • Virus-free. Frankly, so is Windows. At least for me.
  • Boots up in less than 10 seconds. All of my machines are kept in sleep mode, all the time. And so they wake up instantaneously.
I, for one, actually believe in Google's vision of a completely online future and the browser being a huge part of applications in that realm. I think the browser is one of the few hopes we have towards avoiding another decade of something like being MFC experts, just this time with AppKit.

Even with a totally online world, the Chromebook struggles to have a customer.  It's not shiny and cool like the tablets are.  It's not as useful as a Mac or Windows laptop -- which a huge lot of us have already anyway.  Is there anyone on this planet really asking for a $250 laptop that does less because it's all web-based?  $250 is out of reach for the very poor, and the product is an unnecessary one for those who can afford it.

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