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Google's Chromebook positioning conundrum

How would a potential customer judge Google's Chromebook? A dozen questions immediately come to mind, but, for the most part, they seem to be statistics games: will 3G be fast enough? Will the Chromebook have enough space for me? But what is more important to the success of Google's entire Chrome adventure is their stance on Google's big (fat) differentiating Cloud, and that will be made in comparison to Apple's big (fat) differentiating Tablet experience.

So there is one fundamental question Google must answer (and stress, for it is central to the success of Google's own vision for the cloud): will the Chromebook be seen as a device with value added to the normal laptop experience, as a result of what could potentially be a potent pervasive connectivity + cloud OS combination? Or is it less of a laptop? The answer will affect the benchmark a customer will establish for it. A comparision with the iPad (the latter) would be fatal: products targeting that segment must follow Apple's lead and do more to mutate the HCI experience to succeed in order to make up with diminished expectations for "real work" applications. It certainly does behoove competitors to strive for the former - hence Intel's big gamble on Atom and their annoyance at Microsoft's pursual of ARM. This also accounts for the odd pricing of the Chromebook: at around $450 it is neither netbook nor iPad; attributed with more value than vanilla Windows, yet still a commodity product. (This also ties in well with the cloud aspect of things: the tablet itself can't be of too much value, lest customers keep being reminded of ChromeOS' limitations...).

How will Google respond to the one core issue that will dog them? I suspect any response will lack here: Google, all in all, isn't exactly set up for generating the loyalty they have with perhaps their other products - in particular Android. ChromeOS is not Android, Pichar is not Rubin; and as a result they do not have the rabid core that will side-step the requirement for building critical mass by hand. It is unusual to see Google starting from scratch and working with an original strategy in terms of userbase: the only other time that's happened is with their one original product - search. Throughout their history they have simply (but deftly) transferred this userbase around their particular products on their strengths and a certain amount of buzz (see GMail). Its absence is a casualty stemming from Google's quiet introduction of the Chromebook.

They do not, in particular, hold the moral upper ground here. Google's vision of the centralized Cloud is Apple's iEcosystem taken to its logical conclusion. While the issue might be moot from the viewpoint of Google (I assume it is meant to compete with other concepts of computing-on-the-go, i.e. the iPad), it is prime fodder for tarring Google in quite a few ways - "inconsistent" at the very least, "hypocrite" if one is willing to work with quite a few assumptions. This is in particular opposition to Apple's own attitude: they are, if anything, consistent and quick to eliminate competing messages, hence Marketing's clutch over internal devs (themselves already mass constantly moving and changing in formation and order - Apple may be credited for running their well-established business with the agility of a startup, but what does that cost?).

What Google must do is address this issue before reviewer experiences catch up with our expectations for the product. I suppose they've forgotten that that this is more important than what the product actually is in the long run.

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