Why should Microsoft and its hardware partners have all the fun with touchscreen laptops? That question, or something like it, may have been spoken inside Google, given reports the technology giant is readying a touchscreen Chrome OS notebook.
A recent story in the Taiwan-based, Chinese-language Commercial Times said that Google has contracted with Compal Electronics to manufacture the device. The publication said the product will be Google-branded, come with an electronic stylus, have a 12.85-inch screen and utilize the cloud-based Chrome operating system.
20 Million Units?
The Commercial Times also said that Compal will ship the completed units from the end of this year through the first quarter, and that the first run will be 20 million units. So far, Google has declined to comment on the report.
The reported order size is relatively small for laptops, but huge for Chrome-based laptops, which have not sold well. Acer has reportedly sold about 5,000 Chromebooks total, for instance, and there are reports that Samsung has sold fewer than that. Google has not revealed the total number of Chromebooks that have been sold or shipped.
Despite the apparently poor sales , Google has said it is committed to the Chrome OS, as it attempts various strategies to get that platform going. It has pitched Chrome-based laptops as inexpensive complements to existing, full-feature laptops, not as replacements.
Google is also moving forward with development of Chrome Remote Desktop, currently in beta, which is a browser extension that allows a Chrome OS laptop to remotely access or administer Mac or Windows computers, literally becoming a peripheral to those mainstream offerings.
The first Chromebook was unveiled in December 2010, Acer and Samsung Chromebooks were first released in the summer of 2011, and a second generation of hardware was launched in May of this year.
Google has said that Chromebooks have found a home in more than a thousand schools, and the company is promoting the fact that this platform requires relatively little administration, since all applications and data reside in the cloud. Administration and maintenance are a big problem for many schools.
If Google is intending for the OS to support touch in a laptop, it will face the same issues that Microsoft has. Should there be separate user interfaces for touch interaction on the one hand, and mouse/keyboard on the other? Should a touch interface rely on large, touchable screen objects, such as Windows 8 uses for its touch interface, or smaller ones, as Apple does?
Will the laptop be convertible into a tablet, as a number of the new, Windows 8 devices are? Google has indicated it is interested in developing a Chrome-based tablet, and that it is working on a version of its OS for tablets. There is some speculation among Google-watchers that, instead of competing with price-dropping and full-feature laptops, Chrome's eventual destiny is to become primarily a touch-based platform for inexpensive, cloud-based tablets.