Google IO enters its second day, with Google pushing more into business laptops… and desktops.
Angry Birds is coming to a web browser near you.
I just wanted to get that little tidbit out of the way, because that was probably the least important news to come out of Google IO 2011’s second day. The most significant thing about Angry Birds coming to Google Chrome, other than oversaturation, is that it’s built with WebGL. There will be a fallback to HTML Canvas for browsers that don’t support WebGL (we’re looking at you, Microsoft!)
The big buzz is about hardware. Google announced support for new hardware with its Chrome OS, which will be called “Chromebooks” (for the laptops) and something called “Chrome Box” for the desktop. Of the two classes of units, Chromebooks were actually launched at Google IO. You’ll be able to plunk down your credit card for one at Best Buy this summer ($499 for the Samsung unit with 12.1-inch display, $349 for the Acer version with smaller $11.6 inch panel.)
But that’s not important in the bigger scheme of things – which is to say, the three-way deathmatch between Microsoft, Google and Apple.
In the fight against Microsoft for corporate hearts and minds, Google is weighing in with updated laptops running a newly refined version of Chrome OS. Last year’s Chromebook, known as the CR-48, is now history. As noted above, Samsung and Acer are jumping into the fray. Interestingly, both use Intel dual core Atom CPUs, rather than the ARM-based processors common in some of the Android tablets. These units are always connected to the Internet, either via 3G or Wi-Fi. Unlike last year’s CR-48, you’ll be able to access files locally – one of the big enhancements to Chrome OS is an actual file manager, with user-accessible file system.
But the hardware and OS is only a tiny piece of the picture. Google sees business and education as the major markets, more so than consumers. Businesses customers would pay $28 per month per seat, while educational institutions pay $20 per month. There may be additional costs involved for more cloud storage and additional services, but the base price is incredibly attractive.
At first blush, you’d think a dual core Atom system is pretty anemic when it comes to raw performance – but most apps will actually running through a browser in the cloud. In fact, Google showed off an HTML 5 version of Citrix Receiver, which allows you to run your Windows app from a server through the cloud in your browser. So for many mobile users, Chromebooks might be perfectly adequate.
Throw in the lower cost of support, and Google may have a winner. Migrating to new hardware is easy, since nothing except some data is locally stored. Security is less of a problem, since the software is sandboxed and lives in the browser. IT departments looking for relief from the high cost of support may like what they see. The only thing that might give them pause is the transition costs of moving to new hardware and training users.
Okay, so we’ve seen how Google is taking on Microsoft. But the company has its eyes on Apple, and is aiming right at Apple’s revenue stream.
Google announced two key pieces of functionality: in-app purchases, which social gaming app makers will love, and a better royalty stream. Adding in-app purchases is the culmination of Google’s buyout of Jambool last year. Once you’ve established an account in any Google store, (Android store, Youtube, Google Checkout), you’ll be able to use in-app purchasing. So if you’re playing a free-to-play game, it will be that much easier to get that piece of horse armor for your in-game steed.
In-app payments add a key ingredient that was missing from Android when compared to Apple’s iOS infrastructure. Taking aim at Apple even more directly, Google announced the pricing model for in-app payments would be a flat 5% -- whether the app developer distributes via the Chrome Web Store or if they do their own distribution. That gives developers a much higher cut of the pie – 5% versus Apple’s 30% cut – and more flexibility.
Can Google successfully wage a two-front war against both Apple and Microsoft? Will Microsoft also make moves on the Windows Phone front to challenge them? The next few years will feature a tense, three-way battle for the hearts and minds of businesses, developers and mobile consumers. Time to grab some popcorn and watch the fireworks.