Google, the developer of the world's most frequently used operating system, Android, is now taking serious aim at the low-end PC market with a handful of new and innovative Chrome OS devices. Currently, Android is used on just over 80 percent of the world's smartphones, while iOS dipped slightly to just under 15 percent.
In a post on the Google blog, Staff Systems Integration Engineer & ARM Wrestler Katie Roberts-Hoffman announced the launch of two new Chromebooks: the Haier Chromebook 11 (available from Amazon) and the Hisense Chromebook (available at Walmart). Both are priced starting at just $149.
She also said two other Chrome OS devices would be released later this year: the Asus Chromebook Flip (available late spring), priced at $249, and the Asus Chromebit (available this summer), a stick to be used with any HDMI TV or other display, for less than $100.
Shrinking PCs, Shrinking Costs
In her post, Roberts-Hoffman underscored the features that have typically been among the main selling points for Chromebooks.
"Since we introduced them four years ago," Roberts-Hoffman said, "Chromebooks have made computers faster, simpler, and more secure, while eliminating everyday hassles like waiting for your computer to boot up, having to constantly charge it, and remembering to install software updates."
Many Chromebooks released thus far, admittedly, have not been particularly powerful machines, and the newest entries don't offer a significant upgrade in computing power. However, the new laptops do offer a compelling blend of low cost and better performance.
At the heart of the new machines is the ARM-based system-on-a-chip Rockchip RK3288 processor. The compact, low-cost chip is what enables Haier and Hisense to offer their new Chromebooks at $149.
"Rockchip and Google have a very close relationship -- we've cooperated on tablets and smart phones for years," said Feng Chen, chief marketing officer of Rockchip. "We're used to working with Google on cutting-edge projects, like Project ARA's modular smart phones. The RK3288-C has worked out very well in Chromebooks, and we see enormous potential for these new devices."
The basic versions of the Chromebooks feature 11.6-inch screens, 2 GB RAM, and 16 GB flash memory cards. They come equipped with two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, and promise 8.5 to 10 hours of battery life.
Chrome OS on Your TV
The other devices announced by Google offer new twists to the Chrome OS family.
The Asus Chromebook Flip is a metal Chromebook that will retail for $249. It can be used as a laptop, or users can flip the 10.1-inch touchscreen over onto the back of the laptop to play games, watch videos, or use apps.
Even more radical is the Chromebit, which is essentially a computer on a stick the size of a USB memory stick. The device, which Roberts-Hoffman described as "smaller than a candy bar," will also offer 2 GB of RAM and a 16 GB memory card.
The device is designed to be plugged into any television or computer monitor with a free HDMI port. There is a swiveling HDMI plug at one end and a USB 2.0 port at the other end of the stick.
"By simply plugging this device into any display," Roberts-Hoffman said, "you can turn it into a computer. It’s the perfect upgrade for an existing desktop and will be really useful for schools and businesses."