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2011: A Tablet Odyssey

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Google is rumoured to be developing a Chrome OS tablet computer that will be manufactured by HTC and offered in the US via Verizon from November 26. Well, that was the story floated by the Download Squad website last week, and repeated by others as diverse as the Christian Science Monitor and Hindustan Times. The substance of the story probably isn’t true, in my view, but it’s pointing in the right direction.

The current gadget war is between Google Android smartphones and Apple iPhones running iOS. The next must obviously be between Google Android tablets and Apple iPads running iOS, which is where Download Squad’s story starts to fall down. Chrome OS is a browser-based operating system that is designed to do everything on the web, without using either powerful PC applications or the stunted Java-style applets we now call "apps".
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We're not sure what or when, but a Google Tablet seems inevitable.

Chrome OS depends on fast internet connections and high-powered websites, so it’s a bit ahead of its time. HTML5 could eventually remove the need for apps, but in the short term I don’t see Chrome OS going mainstream. Further, I can’t see Google pushing Android on both smartphones and TV sets while using Chrome OS for the Google Pad you will have on your lap while watching TV and phoning your mother. It has to go for Android on all three.

I expect Apple came to the same conclusion, which is why some people now expect a new version of Apple TV running the iPhone/iPad iOS.

But swap Chrome OS for Android instead and the story looks more plausible. HTC is a reasonable choice of manufacturer, because it made the overhyped Google Phone that eventually appeared as the Nexus One. Verizon is the obvious choice of network because it doesn’t (yet) sell iPhones, and because Google and Verizon have been having lots of talks. On August 9, they made a joint proposal on "net neutrality".

The problem with Android is that it was developed for mobile phones with small screens, not for tablets with 10-inch screens. As a result, we’re waiting for Gingerbread (Android 3.0) to appear in 'Q4', because that is supposedly "tablet friendly". However, there is no guarantee that Gingerbread will make the shops by November 26. Not everyone will have upgraded to Frozen Yoghurt (Android 2.2 Froyo) by then.

Even if we accept that Google could launch a tablet running Android 3.0, would it want to? The Nexus One worked out badly for a couple of reasons. First, people wanted to see the phone before they bought it online. Second, customer support. If you run websites with hundreds of millions of users, you can avoid talking to them; if you’re selling high-priced smartphones, that’s not a good option.

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