Google was wrong…

no one wants a pure web laptop.

As someone who has been using Chromebooks for a while…

… I have always tried to push the limits of what you can do with them. More often than not, the limits I hit were caused by one of the core tenets of the platform, that everything you need to do will be done with web apps. It turns out, this was never true, and it’s looking increasingly less likely that it is going to ever become true.

I read a web article a while back called “Is Chrome OS right for you? A 3-question quiz to find out“. The first two questions in the author’s quiz are:

  1. Do you spend most of your time using the web and web-centric services?
  2. Do you have specific local programs that you absolutely need, or could most of the things you do on a computer be accomplished with web-centric equivalents — along with Android and/or Linux apps to fill in any gaps?

At some level, these two questions capture both the history, and the problem with Chromebooks. When Chromebooks were first being developed, the notion that we might end up doing everything on the web was aspirational at best and, more cynically, was an attempt by Google to force people onto a platform they “controlled”. It rapidly became clear that the under-powered, first generation devices that were being built were too limited for day-to-day use, and as the complexity of applications that were being built on the web increased, they couldn’t even handle those web apps well.

Even more telling is that, even if we believed a web-based future would eventually come, what we have actually seen is the world going in a different direction: It’s not web apps that people run, but rather mobile apps. Question two above suggested we would use Android apps to “fill in any gaps”, but it’s Android (or iOS) apps that people typically use now, even if there are web app alternatives.

So what happened? Google added support for Android apps to Chrome, and Apple is in the process of doing the same on their platform. Want proof that it’s a mobile world? Just go take a look at the relative sizes of the Google Play Store and the Chrome Web Store. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

And the funny think about all this, is that yes, Chromebooks are useful now, because they can run the applications people are using, and have large screens and input hardware that makes using those applications easier than running them on phones. Oh well.

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