Google's VP of engineering for Chrome Linus Upson in an interview late Wednesday called out his company's plans to expand Chrome OS beyond netbooks. The web app platform was designed for traditional compute design, he acknowledged, but it had the potential to be an alternate to Android on small-sized devices and Google TV on very large screens. It would eventually have touch since tablets are also in the long-term plans, Upson told the New York Times.
"We are starting with laptops and we will expand in both directions," he said.
The statements directly contradict those of CEO Eric Schmidt, who at the Web 2.0 Summit declared Chrome OS unfit for touch and primarily bound to the keyboard. However, the statements were vague on whether he saw it as a permanent design rift or a short-term limitation. Google has shown mockups of what a Chrome OS tablet might look like (pictured here) but has never added code to the open source Chromium OS that would clearly point to a touchscreen.
An expansion into other areas may represent a need to justify Chrome OS in the middle of a changing landscape. Netbooks were at their height when the software was previewed in late 2009, but the launch of the iPad in April combined with a lack of Intel Atom updates led to netbooks demand cooling rapidly, to the point where even one Microsoft executive acknowledged that iPads were hurting the category. Android at the time was still only thought of as a phone OS, but it's now being used on tablets like the Galaxy Tab and should be optimized for tablets and other touchscreen devices once Honeycomb (Android 3.0) is public.
Upson's positioning of Chrome OS in its non-touch version may have alluded to a change in marketing strategy that would focus on corporate buyers rather than the home. As much as 60 percent of workplaces could switch away from traditional platforms like Mac OS X or Windows, he said, since many company PCs don't need the storage and locally stored software but could instead rely primarily on the web. The use of cloud-based apps could also reduce the need for local IT administrators, since updates for apps like Google Docs or Office.com will automatically go out instead of needing patches and other local maintenance. A Chrome OS computer can run on as little as an 8GB SSD and has a very low overall performance demand with a core that relies almost exclusively on a browser.
It's unclear how Google would promote Chrome OS for mobile. The slower connections and less powerful hardware makes them more dependent on native apps to work efficiently. The last tablet to focus primarily on the web, Fusion Garage's JooJoo, struggled in the market and is switching to Android to put more attention on native apps.