July 08, 2009, 9:55 PM — As the stories about Google's new Chrome OS piled up in my feed reader this morning, I read with interest but professional detachment. Here, at last, was a story that couldn't possibly have any Apple-related points for me to blog about. Right? Right?
Well, it turns out that I had forgotten that irritating creature, the monomaniacal analyst. I'm sure they exist in all ecological niches of the tech world, but the one that I keep encountering insists that Apple should -- nay, must come out with a netbook, and soon, or else it is doomed as a company. And any development that comes down the pike must be put into the framework of this very important fact. Thus, Technology Business Research's Ezra Gottheil declared that "This exposes the consequences of letting a gigantic gap open between its lowest-priced notebook and cheap netbooks." Ah, yes, this move (which will not result in any selling products for at least a year, by the way) does in fact expose the "consequences" of Apple's decision not to participate in this market: it doesn't have to compete against cheap commodity hardware running a variety of Linux. I'm sure they're crying themselves to sleep over it tonight.
CNet's Ina Fried has a more interesting take. After all, the big new thing about Chrome OS is that it essentially will essentially exist only to run the Chrome browser; all, or nearly all, applications will simply be Web apps. In other words, Google is betting that enough functionality will be available in a browser Window (thanks not least to Google's suite of Web apps) that people will be willing to give up pretty much everything they get through the OS and local apps. Apple's whole computing experience is built around the proposition that OS X and the iLife apps are themselves pleasurable to use and worth paying extra for; the sort of person who might be wooed by this argument probably isn't going to go for a wholly browser-based experience. But Windows, which commands less loyalty as an experience, might be in more trouble. Now, Fried isn't suggesting that Chrome OS is going to displace Windows and neither am I, but just as the OS X experience has helped Apple keep commodity hardware at bay, so too might it successfully present an alternative to a Web-based OS.
If there is one negative impact on Apple, it might come in the makeup to the company's board of directors. As Techcrunch points out, Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Google board member Arthur Levinson are both on Apple's board; right now they must recuse themselves when discussion turns to the iPhone, which competes with Google's Android, but if Google gets into the OS business, is there any Apple business they'll be allowed to deal with?