Instead of building offline tools for Chromebooks, Google should double down on the Web

By Nathaniel Mott , written on June 6, 2014

From The News Desk

It's fair to say most computers are severely handicapped whenever they can't access the Internet, but few are as totally incapacitated as Chromebooks, which rely on the Web to perform even the simplest of tasks. While the devices offer tools that allow people to edit documents or view their email archives without an Internet connection, almost everything else relies on some online service or other.

Google is trying to change that by introducing apps like the new Play Movies, which allows Chromebook users to save videos to their devices for offline viewing. But I have to wonder, should it bother with those applications, or should it instead embrace the Web even more?

The problem with Chromebooks isn't that they rely on Web services to perform even the most basic functions, it's that they aren't always online. Google and other companies are starting to prove the claims that Web technologies can be just as useful as their native brethren, so using online applications to create documents, edit images, or stream videos no longer seems strange.

That fact extends across everything from Chromebooks to Windows laptops and MacBooks. There's a reason why Apple announced a new feature in OS X Yosemite allowing Mac users to connect their laptops to their iPhones to share an Internet connection, and it's not because it was easy: people expect constant connectivity, whether they're using something as Internet-dependent as a Chromebook or devices that can technically function without access to any online services.

Google should be offering products that offer similar always-on connectivity, not developing apps that make the Chromebook's most glaring flaws even more apparent. (Most of them have limited storage space, so they'll never be free from the Internet, even with new applications.) It's playing to its laptops' weaknesses instead of improving the things that make them unique.

So while existing Chromebook users might appreciate the ability to watch a movie without an Internet connection -- assuming they still buy movies instead of streaming them or acquiring them through, uh, other means -- that's hardly going to make a difference for consumers who were wary about buying into the Chromebook's core principles. Google is playing catch-up instead of showing everyone that Chromebooks are just as capable as other computers.

Then again, perhaps it's a good thing Google is tinkering with software instead of hardware. The last time it did something innovative with Chromebook hardware by releasing a charger that worked with both the HP Chromebook 11 and smartphones, things got a little... heated.