Chrome aims to steal some iPad thunder

The dust is settling from the unveiling of the iPad, and now Google looks to join the tablet fray with a Chrome-based device

Fresh off the unveiling of Apple's iPad tablet PC, we have a whole new batch of tablet rumors--this time regarding a Google Chrome-based tablet device. The Chromium Project, the core behind the development of the Chrome operating system. Has released a number of mockups and early concepts regarding what a Chrome-based tablet PC might be.

isn't Apple, but next to Apple, Google is arguably the most-qualified to launch a tablet device capable of being a game changer. One thing that Apple and Google have in common is that they tend to think outside of the mainstream and are capable of creating paradigm-shifting innovation.

After all of the hype, rumors, and speculation, the Apple iPad is really more of a giant iPod Touch than a full computer. While some tablets, like the HP Slate unveiled by Steve Ballmer at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), operate on Windows 7 or some other desktop operating system, the iPad runs the iPhone mobile operating system rather than Apple's Mac OS X.

An "iPhone on steroids", as many have dubbed it, may not seem very compelling, but the reality is that the iPad looks to be a very capable device for what its designed to do. The fact that it runs the vast library of apps available in the iTunes App Store gives users tens of thousands of free and cheap programs to choose from, and developers will soon create new apps uniquely suited for the iPad form factor.

Based on the early conceptual ideas regarding the Chrome tablet, Google may be taking a completely different, yet equally innovative, approach to the tablet PC. Whereas the Apple iPad revolves around apps--similar to the popular iPhone and iPod Touch devices, the Chrome tablet takes a Web-based doc, or file-centric approach.

The very concept of the Chrome OS revolves around creating a Web-centric operating system that sheds all of the excess weight and frivolous features of standard desktop operating system, and provides a streamlined Web browser interface that enables users to interact with Web-based services like Google Docs, Gmail, Picassa, etc.

The tablet PC page on the Chromium site has a variety of mock photos depicting what a Chrome-based tablet might look like. It also lists some of the design elements currently under consideration:

•Keyboard interaction with the screen: anchored, split, attached to focus.

•Launchers as an overlay, providing touch or search as means to access web sites.

•Contextual actions triggered via dwell.

•Zooming UI for multiple tabs

•Tabs presented along the side of the screen

•Creating multiple browsers on screen using a launcher

Aesthetics and user interface aside, a Chrome OS tablet may make a better business tool than the Apple iPad for a few reasons. First, many businesses have existing Web-based tools and applications. A tablet that works seamlessly with the Web would be a more natural extension of existing business tools than a tablet PC centered around iPhone apps.

The nature of Google Docs, Gmail, Google Wave, and other tools from Google allow for seamless synchronization between the tablet, the desktop, the mobile phone, and any other platform because the tools and the data reside online.

The fact that the applications and data are Web-based also makes it easier to share data with other users and collaborate--in real-time, or not--with peers, partners, or customers.

Finally, the Chrome operating system is open-source which enables businesses to freely customize it to fit their needs, or develop tools for it that integrate with other systems and improve business processes. Further, they can deploy those tools without having to get approval from Google, and without having to make them available to the general public in the app store.

Don't get me wrong, the iPad actually has way more business potential than many give it credit for. Once it arrives, I have faith that new tools will continue to be developed to enhance its business functionality even farther. And, let's face it, the iPad has been officially announced and will be available soon while the Chrome tablet is pure speculation, so the iPad wins in that department as well.

Whether or not the Chrome tablet ends up being a better business tool than the iPad will remain to be seen, if and when a Chrome-based tablet actually exists.

Tony Bradley tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW, and can be contacted at his Facebook page.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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