This is the year Google started taking Chromebooks seriously. In February the company introduced the Chromebook Pixel, a touch-screen equipped laptop that costs more than many Windows or OS X-powered notebooks, ending the Chromebook category’s status as cheap laptops that happen to run Chrome OS instead of Windows. And now it seems that Google plans to make Chromebooks even more appealing, both by improving the devices themselves with more power and longer battery life and by further blurring the line between Web-based and native-built applications.
Google is reportedly preparing a version of Chrome OS for Intel’s Haswell processor, which could allow manufacturers to build devices with 10-hour battery life while also improving performance. This alone would be important for the Chromebook category, which, with the notable exception of the Google-built Chromebook Pixel, consists entirely of cheap, low-powered laptops that are really just netbooks running Chrome OS instead of Windows. Given how well the original netbook category is faring (it’s dead) anything that leads to more-powerful Chromebooks is likely a welcome change for the category.
It will be interesting to see if Chromebooks begin to emulate the Chromebook Pixel, which has been described as a laptop that everyone should want but no one should buy due to its vast feature-set and high price, if only because there isn’t a true Chromebook “category” yet. There are low-end devices and a single high-end device; in order for the Chromebook to truly challenge Windows devices there needs to be something in the middle and a few more high-end products.
But hardware is really only part of the Chromebook story. The devices are mainly shells for Chrome OS, Google’s attempt to convince consumers that all they need is the Web (and Google). And, with the continued development of what Google is calling “Packaged Apps,” Chrome OS might just ease the pain of using Web apps for everything.
Packaged Apps are Web apps that are able to better emulate native applications due to their ties to the Chrome browser and Chrome OS. This would allow for better performance, access to more hardware features, and, if they work as advertised, Web-based applications that are indistinguishable from their native counterparts. Google pushed Packaged Apps into the Chrome and Chrome OS developer’s channel this week, bringing the feature that much closer to release.
Bridging the performance gap between native and Web-based applications would allow Chrome OS to become something more than a glorified Web browser — or, at the very least, allow users to forget that that’s exactly what Google’s desktop operating system is. If there’s no difference between using Word on a Windows laptop and Drive on a Chromebook, or listening to music, playing a game, or watching a movie on either device, Chromebooks and Chrome OS could become the harbingers of the Web that Google wants them to be.