Google Chromebook

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has updated its line of laptops running the firm’s Chrome OS. The new computers, which for the first time include a desktop variant, are promised to be much faster than their predecessors and come with more intuitive preloaded applications.

The operating system debuted last year to little or no aplomb as newer and shinier devices, like the iPad and other tablets have taken the market by storm. The updated models have been built by Samsung and include a Chromebox which can be plugged into a television.

The devices each feature 16 GB of memory and so will require a huge amount of depedence on Google’s Drive cloud service. Each will come with an Intel processor and 4 GB of RAM. The Chromebooks will retail for between $429 and $499. The Chromebox will set buyers back a more modest $329.

Google’s browsing software, Google Chrome off of which Chrome OS is pretty obviously based, became the number one browser in the world very recently. The company is seeking to diversify into other areas as successfully as it has the browsing market. The desktop operating system sector will be more of a challenge.

What Google is offering with the Chromebook is essentially a much less powerful operating system. It is closer in functionality to the mobile operating systems and Google already has one of those. Chrome OS seems to have been an idea that was around long before mobile computing became such an important market. Now it is stuck between a rock and a hard place competing with more mobile and supported devices, like Android and iOS gadgets, on one side and monolithic powerful incumbents on the other, OSX and Windows.

It will be difficult for Google to squeeze between these two groups and create a market for netbooks that are different from tablets and different from ultraportable laptops. That is the challenge that Chrome OS faces and the reason it has been so underwhelming in its first year of existence.

Google is trying though. For the first time the devices will be offered in real world stores rather than simply online. That move signals a marketing change and a possible change in focus to push the product. We will have to wait and see however. The operating system faces huge challenges and Google may decide to get out while it’s ahead.