Friday, March 14, 2014

Re: Chromebook belongs to computing's past, not its future

About the author

Jeff Nelson invented Google's ChromeOS operating system while working at Google in 2006.  Nelson is the author of two books and many magazine articles.  He has over 20 years experience building world class teams in the Internet industry.

Responding to Joe Wilcox's recent blog which often focuses on Chromebook, Joe Wilcox has written a book, 'Chromebook Matters'[] and several blog posts about Chromebook.

 "Twenty Fourteen isn’t Year of the Chromebook"[]

 "Why Chromebook is good for students", []

 "Chromebook belongs to computing's past, not its future"[]

He raises a number of interesting points that I'd like to respond to.  However, rather than responding to many points in a water-ed down, rambling blog, I'm just going to respond to perhaps the most important point.

Wilcox writes, "Chromebook is an aberration, only made possible by Google’s sync smarts and supporting services platform."

I think you are focusing too much on the specific platform and not enough on the big picture.  The industry has been trending more heavily to a fully connected world and client-server architectures in which data lives on the server.  Further, regardless of whether you are using a smartphone, PC, Mac, or ChromeOS, a large portion of your data is actually residing off your device - on a remote server.  ChromeOS may be the most pure form of that client-server architecture, but I hope you will agree that the trend away from stand-alone architectures toward Internet architectures is only accelerating.

Wilcox goes on, "As voice and touch replace keyboards, devices like smartphones and phablets make more sense."  I don't like to draw hard lines based on hardware configurations.  The physical keyboard does not define what's a Chromebook and what's not a Chromebook, or whether or not the platform will be successful in the market in the long run.  Quite the contrary, you can add a physical keyboard to just about any device.  Visa versa, you can run ChromeOS without a keyboard.  In my view, the OS should be viewed as agnostic to the hardware configuration, particularly when such minor issues as whether or not a keyboard is included in the packaged product.

Arguably, the industry has already seen the market diverge into two or more sub-species of hardware configuration, based primarily on context of how they are being used.  Smartphones are for around town, because they are easily carried.  Tablets are for home-use, because they aren't easily carried.  Laptops and PCs are for 24/7 professionals who need the speed and ergonomics of a full-sized keyboard and monitor.

As for voice, I am entirely convinced, as someone who has tried to rely heavily on voice and has done some work in the voice recognition industry, voice is not suitable for replacing keyboards on a full-time basis.  If you think it might be, I'd encourage you to try it for a week, yourself.  I found after only a few hours, my throat was already noticeably irritated.  After about a week, my voice was starting to give out.  Speaking continuously for hours and days just places too much strain on vocal cords. Further, it's not necessarily faster than a skilled typist at data entry.  Is there a place for voice? Yes. Is it going to replace keyboards for professionals? Not a chance.

I can't say if the specific Chromebook product will be a marketing success in the long run. That is, in fact, entirely out of my hands since I no longer work for Google, but I am confident Chromebook's Internet reliant, client-server architecture is here to stay.