Intel and Google have come together to unveil a new range of Haswell-powered Chromebooks at the Intel Developers Forum 2013. The event saw the announcement of new hardware partners for Google’s Chrome OS, with Asus and Toshiba joining existing partners HP and Acer to announce new systems. That’s besides Samsung and Google itself, bringing the total number of Chrome OS hardware makers up to six. What this also means is that Google is finally turning up the heat on Microsoft and Chrome OS could prove to be proper competition for Windows. Before we get to that, let’s take a look at some of the new hardware.
HP’s new Chromebook 14 has gone up on Google’s official page for Chromebooks along with Acer’s new offering. But neither Asus nor Toshiba have shown us the hardware or revealed specs and pricing of the new Chromebooks. So there is no information about what size displays they’ll have, or about the internal storage space or the selection of ports. With no pictures to go by either, it’s impossible to judge the new Asus and Toshiba systems. We expect a formal announcement from the companies in the coming weeks.
HP's new colourful range of Chromebook 14
Among the systems we do know about, the HP Chromebook 14 will have a 14-inch 1366x768 display and will be available in a range of peppy colours. Even then the notebook looks sleek and has a soft-rubberised touch on the body. To be honest, these look like some of Lenovo’s early Ultrabook efforts, but nevertheless is a welcome change from staid-looking Chromebooks of yore.
Other features include a full-sized HDMI port, 16 gigs of storage, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, an HD webcam, an SD card slot and a battery that HP claims will last upto 9.5 hours of continuous use. Since this is Chrome OS, it will also come with additional cloud storage on Google Drive and the Chromebook 14 will come with 100 GB of free storage for 2 years. As for retail availability, the Chromebook 14 will be available before the US holiday season and is priced from $299.99 onwards.
Acer continues backing Chrome OS with a new system. Acer’s new Chromebook (officially called the Acer Chromebook) is a 0.75-inch thin system and weighs under three pounds. The 11.6-inch sounds small but has a decent sounding 1366 x 768 resolution. There’s no word on the price, or on which Haswell chipset will be running the show. This one too gets 100GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. Acer says the system should last up to 8.5 hours of continuous use from the non-removable cell. It also sports an HDMI port, two USB ports (one 3.0), a standard headphone jack and an SD card slot on the sides.
Acer's 11-inch system is a second-generation Chromebook
The new hardware represents a second recent push for the Chrome OS platform with Google announcing a new breed of Chrome Apps that can work outside the browser. This greatly increases the possibility of having full-fledged apps for the OS and could give Chrome OS a solid foundation for the battle against Windows. While these are still early days to talk about a large-scale Chrome OS surge, Google has the advantage of having its Android experience to fall back on when appealing for more apps. Google VP Sundar Pichai heading Chrome and Android has also presumably lead to sharing of marketing strategies and ideas between the two platforms.
All indications are that Google has the opportunity to step in and grab a piece of the PC market. Most PC manufacturers are training their eyes on newfangled designs and Two-in-One form factors due to the touch-centric nature of Windows 8 and 8.1. This means customers have to learn new ways of using the device, despite manufacturers’ claims of ease of use. This is definitely a factor in the buying decision. Another huge pain-point is the price. Most of these systems are expensive in India (starting over Rs 50,000 in most cases), especially considering how affordable Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems had become.
Chromebooks, on the other hand, still look and play like notebooks and the low price point (with the exception of the niche Chromebook Pixel) has always been an attraction. Chrome OS is set up nicely here and it has enough manufacturers interested to be considered a contender. What remains is deeper penetration into markets where Chrome OS is nascent. We can expect Google or its hardware partners to give the browser-based OS a big marketing push over the next year or so. And if it indeed catches the consumer's eye, we could have a Windows vs Chrome OS battle on our hands.