Google’s Chromebook is a low-cost laptop running the eponymous operating system. Photo: David Paul Morris
Google is launching $299 laptops in Australia in a bid to get more people using cloud computing and web applications, although the machines cost $100 more than they do in the US.
The Chromebooks – which run the Chrome operating system and only access the web – went on sale at Harvey Norman and JB HiFi on Tuesday morning. The Google Apps corporate sales team will also be selling the machines.
Chrome OS product manager Caesar Sengupta tells BRW that Google worked closely with the manufacturers, Samsung and Acer, to optimise the hardware.
“We started developing Chrome OS about four years ago because we were observing people living within the Chrome browser most of the time and using web-based products like email,” Sengupta says. “We call it cloud computing and we wanted to design an experience that was optimised for users in this environment. Users should not have to think about the computer.”
The Chromebook does have some local storage but because it runs the Chrome OS, it won’t run software programs on the local machine, only through a web browser. The Chrome OS updates automatically every six weeks or so, meaning the computing experience should improve with time.
Sengupta says Chromebooks are a core strategic move for Google because it uncouples computing from the hard drive and encourages people to use web apps and cloud storage, such as Google Apps and Google Drive.
Users can log into Chrome to keep their settings and access to files stored in the cloud, but they can also use guest mode or open an “incognito” browser window for privacy.
Google Chromebooks launched in the US about 18 months ago and are also available in the UK but this is the first time they have been sold in Australia.
Sengupta says manufacturers or retailers might have “done their own thing” in the past by selling laptops with the Chrome OS installed but these were not officially Chromebooks and they were not allowed to use the name.
In Australia, the Samsung Chromebook retails for $349 and the Acer Chromebook for $299. This is about $100 more than the US price point – a fact that Sengupta says is a matter for the manufacturers.
“The best people to talk about the pricing is Samsung and Acer – I would love for it to be much lower,” Sengupta says. “We try to encourage them to be as low as possible but a lot of different things go into the price and in some markets taxes are not quoted in the price.”
The versions that go on sale in Australia on Tuesday come with WiFi and USB connectivity. In the US there are also models with capability for 3G and 4G through a partnership with Verizon, and a Google Australia spokesman says the company is working on similar deals with mobile carriers here.
The Samsung Chromebook has been top of Amazon’s bestseller list for laptops since it launched in the US and Chromebooks now represent more than 10 per cent of notebook sales at Currys PC World, the largest electronics retailer in the UK.
Google has recently introduced the Chromebook Pixel, a high-end model with a touch screen that retails from $1299, to the US market but that is not yet available here.