Is Google looking to compete with Apple in the consumer hardware business? Even before the Google-branded Nexus One smartphone has been officially announced, news comes that Google is preparing a muscular Chrome OS-based netbook for release in 2010.
The current speculation is that the machine will run on a Nvidia Tegra chipset and an ARM CPU, not Intel's Atom. Other rumors indicate a 10.1-inch TFT HD-ready multi-touch display, a 64GB solid-state drive, 2GB RAM, and a full set of toys: Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, an Ethernet port, USB ports, a webcam, a 3.5mm audio jack, a multi-card reader, and so on.
Google has reportedly sent out requests for proposals to various fabricators to make the machine according to Google's specs and design and is shooting for an end-of-year release. It's expected to have a sub-$300 price point and, in the U.S., to be bundled with wireless carriers' 3G offerings.
Not everyone is convinced that Google will actually release these machines as consumer products. A brief blog post by Mario Queiroz, Google's vice president of product management, mentioned no specific products but seemed to hint that the Nexus One is only being produced for internal research.
With the idea that the company should eat its own dog food, Queiroz wrote, "We recently came up with the concept of a lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe. This means they get to test out a new technology and help improve it."
Tim Bajarin, principal analyst with Creative Strategies, said Google's primary interest is in improving the Android platform. "Google is responding to the age-old chicken and egg problem," Bajarin said. "While they hope to get a lot of third-party hardware vendors to support their software platforms, this is a way to make sure they can control the first generation of products and make sure they get to the market and meet their objectives."
"If they have control of the hardware, software and services, they could drive a stronger business model that makes sure they reach their ultimate goal of serving up ads as part of their overall solution," he added.
Development, Not Consumers
Does that necessarily mean that Google isn't going into the hardware business? That's not clear, Bajarin said, "but they need to make sure they create a solid platform that others can license that includes their ad-serving programs."
Another analyst, Jack Gold, wrote in a research report this month that the prospects for Google-branded consumer hardware are "highly unlikely." "I believe Google's intent, and a good move on its part, is to provide a development platform and trial/beta device to thousands of its own employees and ecosystem partners," Gold wrote. "It's doing this to test out the latest and greatest version of Android (V2.1), in a relatively controlled space so Google can get feedback and make improvements."
"I believe when the dust settles in the next few weeks, we'll see that Google, like the good engineering company it is, wants to get a significant number of devices into the hands of actual users," Gold wrote. "And what it learns from these testers will make the next version of the Android OS all the better for it."