Building the Google smartbook dream machine

InfoWorld's 10 essentials for the smartbook revolution to succeed

What dreams may come Acer's Android-based Aspire One D250-1613, although deserving kudos as the first Android netbook to market, falls several items short of dream status. It lacks a touch screen (although it does have a multitouch trackpad), full-sized keyboard, Android buttons, and SSD -- the four highest-priority items on my list. But its networking is half-baked, with 802.11b/g (missing a/n) and Bluetooth; graphics capabilities are mediocre; and there are no position-sensing devices. The integrated camera and microphone are adequate, but not astounding. The device does support dual-boot, and it ships with Windows XP Home (or Windows 7 at a higher price).

Although other vendors, such as Asus, have Android netbooks in the works, their final hardware configurations haven't yet been disclosed (or leaked). Some manufacturers, such as Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, are pushing the use of an ARM processor in place of Intel's x86 Atom (they call these devices "smartbooks," but they're not what I mean by the term; I mean a netbook that includes smartphone capabilities as well). Chipmaker MIPS Technologies is even jumping into the fray by retaining software developer Embedded Alley to port Android to the MIPS processor architecture.

Pundits have made much ado about Google's seemingly divergent mobile OS projects, pointing out that despite a common Linux substrate, the graphical interfaces of the Android and Chrome OSes are wildly different. The Chrome OS has no desktop, which is a central feature of Android, as are Android's widgets and app store. The programming APIs are unique for each platform as well.

Google, for its part, says it will issue mandatory hardware requirements for Chrome OS devices, and presumably these requirements will be more than adequate for Android or any progeny OS issuing from the marriage of Google's dual OS efforts. Exactly how Google expects to enforce specific hardware specifications for an open source OS isn't yet clear. Google Chrome OS project members also pointedly note that the Chrome OS is not meant to be a lightweight notebook -- in other words, a netbook -- but rather a Web appliance with cloud-based storage.

This view is at odds with Eric Schmidt's implication of an OS merger in the offing. But I believe that merged view is where Google is going. Here's a hint from Google's recent press statements: "We're reaching a perfect storm of converging trends where computers are behaving more like mobile devices, and phones are behaving more like small computers."

The pieces are coming together for the smartbook revolution. And the recipe for the devices themselves is on these pages. Christmas 2010, anyone?

This article, "Building the Google smartbook dream machine," was originally published at

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Mel Beckman

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