Google, Android and the future of Netbooks

According to a flurry of reports, a number of established PC manufacturers – and new entrants – are planning to release a Netbook running Google’s Android operating system. However, recent comments made by the search giant’s CEO Eric Schmidt, suggest that Google isn’t particularly interested in seeing Android running on a Netbook – at least not yet, anyway – but is excited by the opportunities that these low-cost sub notebooks present.

Not only are Netbooks sales making Google take notice, their primary use case – surfing the web and accessing other Internet applications – fits perfectly with the company’s own ‘cloud computing’ vision (think Google Docs, Gmail and other Google services). “Keep an eye on this space”, attendees at a recent Google press event were told by Schmidt. So if not Android, what exactly does the company plan to bring to the Netbook experience?

It’s the browser stupid!

Androids web browser running on T-Mobile G1

Android's web browser running on T-Mobile G1

As with Android running on a smart phone, the most important application as far as Google is concerned, and more important than the OS itself, is the web browser. It provides the ‘run time’ for Google applications – search being the most lucrative – regardless of what operating system is powering the device. The company’s investment in Android is all about replicating the ‘open web’ that exists on the PC by standardizing the web browser – and therefore the platform – on mobile phones. Netbooks, in their current state anyway, don’t need such a helping hand as they already run a standard desktop web browser, the same as any other PC. And this explains why Google isn’t focused on porting Android over to traditional Netbooks, although it won’t/can’t stand in the way of others doing so.

Instead, we can expect the company to start targeting Netbooks by tweaking the UI of its existing web-based applications to provide a better user experience on a PC with a 7-10 inch screen, in the same way that it already does for users of Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch, and other mobile phones, including those running Android. In fact, a recent advert on Craigslist indicates that the company is preparing to do just that.

Do you use a Netbook? A Netbook is a small portable laptop computer with a screen smaller than 10 inches and no CD/DVD drive. If you use a Netbook, we want to talk to you about participating in a research study. This study will help the Google team better understand your needs in order to incorporate them into future product enhancements.

That’s not to say that Google won’t ever put resources into developing a version of Android for a device other than a mobile phone, it’s just unlikely to do so for a traditional clam shell and non-touch screen Netbook or any other hardware that can comfortably run a PC operating system.

Related: ‘Android’s biggest Netbook challenge (Hint: Windows)’.

Were a new breed of Internet tablets to take off in numbers that rival or better the current crop of Netbooks, however, then that could be a different matter altogether.

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last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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