Google’s Chrome OS is ambitious. Too ambitious. The concept of booting to a web browser is an enticing one, but Google hasn’t pulled it off well enough. Offline support is incomplete at best, the Chrome Web Store pales in comparison to other app stores and Chrome OS is on a collision course with Windows 8.
Chrome OS will fail — not by going down in flames, but by being quietly folded into Android. In fact, Android is already absorbing Chrome OS as we speak. R.I.P. Chrome OS; you were too far ahead of your time.
Offline Just Isn’t There
People use computers offline. It’s a simple fact, but Google struggles with it. When Chrome OS was announced, HTML 5 was all the rage. Surely, HTML 5 would bring strong offline support to Chrome OS. It wouldn’t matter where you were, you could still use your computer.
June 15, 2011: Chrome OS launches and the first Chromebooks start shipping out. Can users read their email, look at their calendar or edit documents offline? Nope, not yet.
The first stages of offline support were rolled out in August, 2011. Currently, you can view your calendar offline, view recent documents and – drum roll – there’s even offline Gmail!
Wait, I thought Gmail worked offline. Oh, that’s right – there’s a special app for offline Gmail. Google bolted offline support onto Gmail’s tablet interface instead of making it work properly with the regular Gmail app.
It’s now 2012 and offline support is still incomplete at best. You can’t create new calendar events offline. Google Docs has viewing capability offline, but you can’t create a new document or edit an existing document without an Internet connection. I’m a big Google Docs user and whenever there’s a connection hiccup and I can’t continue writing, I reconsider that choice.
Android Is Absorbing Chrome
Google expects Chrome OS and Android to “converge”. Does that mean Chrome OS is going to run Android apps? It doesn’t look like it.
Android is already absorbing Chrome OS. Android 3 brought a Chrome-style browser interface and Chrome bookmark sync to tablets. Soon, Chrome itself will run on Android and you’ll tap a Chrome icon on your Android device to open the default web browser.
When Android smartphones and tablets have the full Chrome browser experience, does it really make sense to have a more stripped-down system for notebooks? Google was once considering Chrome OS for tablets, but it’s now betting on Android tablets.
The Windows 8 Problem
Microsoft is dragging Windows into the 21st century with Windows 8. Whether you love the Metro interface or hate it (I’m skeptical about Metro on the desktop), Windows 8 will include native support for first-class HTML 5 apps.
Is it any question that Windows 8 will have Metro apps that work offline? Imagine a full-featured Hotmail app that works offline. Or a Microsoft Office suite that synchronizes online with Office web apps and SkyDrive. Dramatic boot speed improvements and an integrated app store will bring many of Chrome OS’s features to Windows.
Microsoft’s offering will always have the legacy Windows desktop to lean on, even if it doesn’t have perfect support for web apps. Unless Chrome OS evolves quickly, it will be completely outclassed on its own turf by Windows 8.
It’s All About The Apps
The Android Market has over 400,000 apps. The Chrome Web Store? Nowhere near that. What’s more, many of them, including Google’s own (which should be flagship apps that show the potential of the platform,) are just bookmarks to websites.
Chrome OS is going up against Windows and Mac OS X – desktop operating systems with extensive application libraries. It’s fine as a niche project if you only want a web browser, but it hasn’t proven its own as a legitimate platform yet. The occasional app that uses Chrome’s technology to provide a rich experience is notable because it’s such a rare exception.
Windows 8’s fusion of touch and keyboard interfaces provides an example Google will likely follow. We already have Android tablets with apps designed for large screens; just add a keyboard dock and you have a replacement for a Chromebook that also works as a tablet. By the way, it’s already been done — it’s called the ASUS Transformer.
I’m a big Google fan — I use the Chrome browser, Android and a lot of Google’s web apps. I was even intrigued when Chrome OS was announced. But I’m sad to say, it’s just too ahead of its time.
So what do you think? Will Chrome OS continue to be a niche product until it’s replaced by Android? Or will I regret this post when we’re all using Chromebooks in 2020? Speak your mind in the comments.