Saturday, June 25, 2011
Chromebook: Google's (not so) great guessing game

A few months ago I wrote a post about Nintendo's 3DS, which launched on the same day as the iPad 2 and was obliterated by the Apple hype juggernaut. It was, in my view, an important product. But the fact that nobody knew it was coming out, and when I eventually found it in an HMV the experience left a lot to be desired, meant the whole thing was a bit of an embarrassment.

Talking of important, potentially-disruptive technology, the Google Chromebook is out now in the UK. Oh, hang on. Is it? It might not be. Or is it?

I just don't know. The first article I read about the Chromebook said it would launch in the UK on June 15. It didn't. Then I read one that said it would be arriving in September. Then I read one that said August. Then one this week that said it had just hit the shelves in PC World. So I went down to PC World. Guess what? They looked at me like I was mental.

Amazon, usually a straight talker, has two Samsung Chromebooks listed. They're exactly the same, apart from release dates of July 1 and August 1. And where the hell is the Acer?

Also, it's completely unclear from any article that I've read whether you get 3G data included in the price of the Wifi+3G Chromebook. Even Google's wording doesn't make sense: "3GB of data in the box". What, per month? Overall? Is the SIM card user accessible if I wanted to use it on Vodafone rather than 3?

I just don't have a bloody clue.

Following the issues around Google's Nexus One phone - where people didn't know how to get hold of one, waited for ages for it to turn up, then had nobody to go to when there was a problem - you would've thought Google might have buttoned up its retail strategy by now.

But this looks like the same old shambles. Nobody knows what's going on - even the people supposed to be selling the products. With Chrome OS, Google is attempting to do what it is doing in mobile - provide another option for vendors and consumers. In the end, it has succeeded in mobile by butting out and letting the phone manufacturers do the selling. But even there, its OS is down at the cheap end (and would be my fourth choice after iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone).

In the laptop space, however, Google has to take on the ubiquity of Microsoft and the exclusivity of Apple. Both of those companies know how to build and launch operating systems - in radically different (but hugely successful) ways.

Google is trying to hang out with the grown-ups again. But it's doing what it did last time - turning up late, drunk, and underdressed. When will it get itself together?