Just when you thought the mobile computing market couldn't get any more complicated, Internet search giant Google announced it will build an open-source operating system--Chrome OS--initially targeted at the burgeoning netbook space. The news comes less than two years after Google unveiled its Android operating system for cell phones.
"Netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010," wrote Sundar Pichai, a Google VP and engineering director, in a post on the company's site announcing the news. "Because we're already talking to partners about the project, and we'll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve."
Although Google's move is clearly a direct stab at Windows vendor Microsoft, it also could have significant ramifications for the wireless industry. That Google is initially targeting netbooks means the OS could sit inside wireless carrier stores and run on chips from the likes of Qualcomm. Already Sprint Nextel has subsidized the full price of a Compaq netbook, Verizon Wireless has begun selling an HP netbook in its own retail stores, and Qualcomm is working to expand into the mobile computing arena with its Snapdragon chipset. If Google's play gains steam (the company will announce its Chrome OS manufacturing partners tomorrow, according to IDG News Service) wireless players from across the board could be forced to deal with another Google platform.
Which raises the question: What about Android? Google's OS for smartphones has been embraced by the likes of Samsung, LG, Motorola and others, and companies such as Acer have already promised Android-based netbooks. So how will Chrome OS and Android play together? Google's Pichai attempts an explanation: "Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the Web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google."
The introduction of another operating system is certainly nothing new for wireless; there are dozens of platforms, both closed and open, littering the global wireless industry. The fractured situation has even goaded operators like Vodafone and AT&T to call for consolidation in the space.
Indeed, some industry pundits take umbrage at Google's latest effort. As Twitter user "saschasegan" points out, "With Chrome OS, is Google conceding that Android can't/won't provide a desktop-quality browser experience anytime soon?" And, likely summarizing the feelings of many in the wireless industry--including those who have devoted significant resources to Android--saschasegan deadpans: "Chrome OS. Because what Android needed to succeed was more market confusion."
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