Google is continuing its march into the hardware business with a brand of cheap laptops designed for using the web – and not much else.
On Tuesday, the Internet giant announced its Chromebook concept was finally available in Canada, more than a year after being released in the U.S. and other countries.
Chromebooks look like standard laptops but don't come loaded with a version of Windows or a Mac operating system. They run on Google's Chrome OS, a streamlined platform with the web browser as the main attraction.
They're being pushed as a low-cost device – they start at about $250 – for users who spend most of their time on a computer using the Internet, and therefore don't need the processing power to run full-blown software applications. While Chromebooks can access mobile networks in the U.S., that feature is not available in Canada, so users are limited to working with WiFi.
Stripping away the convoluted operating system and setting things up so users can jump right into the web makes the experience simpler and faster, said Google's Caesar Sengupta, product management director. And there's no need to worry about the nuts and bolts of the machine and regular maintenance, he added.
"The whole idea is basically to have a computing experience that's extremely simple, that's very stable, very secure, and sort of just gets out of your way," Sengupta said.
Chromebooks turn on quickly like mobile devices – although they still take a few seconds to boot up after being shut down.
There's a web store with a selection of simple programs and games to access, and more robust web-based applications – such as the Google Docs suite to create documents and spreadsheets – run smoothly within the Chrome browser and store files online.
Consumers who have been frustrated with the limitations of tablets, and find they can't live with a keyboard, may find Chromebooks are more suitable substitutes for a full-blown laptop.
Acer and Samsung have Chromebooks available through Best Buy and Future Shop (for $250 and $270 respectively) while HP is selling its model for $330 via its own website.
While some users will be uncomfortable with the concept of an Internet-only machine – although you can use some apps while offline – Google saw a growing demand for it.
"Users today, particularly the younger generation, are very web savvy ... the current generation of people or kids are very used to having stuff in the cloud, they prefer that model," said Sengupta.
"For many people they won't move completely (to the Chromebook concept) but it's a fantastic second computer.... But from our point of view we absolutely feel this is where modern-day usage is heading, this is where users are heading, so that's what we're building towards."