New Chromebooks: Google Tries Again to Make a Cloud-Based Computer Enough
Google today releases new versions of its cheap personal cloud computers that promise to be much faster with a less frustrating interface. The Chromebook and Chromebox, made by Samsung, come a year after the launch of the first Chromebooks, which have not been widely adopted.
The new Chromebook is an estimated 2.5 times faster and costs $449, while the new Chromebox is 3.5 faster and costs $329. The latest interface moves away from the odd single windowpane of the early Chromebooks. There’s now support for viewing and adjusting multiple browser windows as well as saving and launching favorite Web apps and setting a desktop background — much more like a normal desktop.
Google also says Chromebook users should now be able to watch video in up to 1080p just fine.
“With the first devices we converted a few people, but this is a pretty profound shift,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s VP of Chrome and Apps, in an interview last week. Pichai is appearing onstage at our D10 conference later this week.
That may be true, but there’s still a way to go, because sometimes the online Web isn’t enough. Google is working on offline access and remote native application usage, but it’s not yet ready.
Coming in the next version of Chrome OS is support for online and offline support of the new Google Drive, which will sync with other devices. Also coming is Google Docs offline editing, which should be available “over the next several weeks,” said Pichai.
Lastly, Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop app allows users to connect to their regular machines should they wish to use a certain piece of desktop software (Pichai labeled these “legacy applications”).
Remote Desktop is in beta — in fact, all caps “BETA” in all the Google materials — but in the demo I saw there was pretty remarkable fidelity as Google Product Management Director Caesar Sengupta manipulated photos in Adobe Lightroom on his laptop left on at home, directly from a Chromebook browser window.
Another coming feature that should help users trying to live fully in the browser is a new unified notification interface, similar to what you’d see on a mobile phone, Pichai and Sengupta said.
So who will buy these devices? Chromebooks and Chromebox will likely have an audience with “power Google users,” said Pichai, as well as enterprises, schools, call centers, point of sale and retail. Google will step up its physical retail presence toward the end of this year, and it also plans to release quite a few more Chrome OS devices in the fourth quarter. On that forward-looking note, Pichai said the new OS is optimized for touchscreens.