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How Chromebooks Are About to Totally Transform Laptop Design | WIRED
"That’s not to say the Chrome OS crew are fortune-tellers, of course. They did miss out on one very important thing: smartphones. You may have heard of them. “Back when we were starting Chrome OS,” Lin says, “the web and mobile were in a dead heat. We were betting big on the web, and the Android team was betting big on mobile.” He doesn’t say the obvious next part, which is that mobile and Android won.

There are still times when you want a keyboard and trackpad, though, or a screen larger than the palm of your hand. And lucky for the Chrome team, Android’s also part of Google. So the two teams started talking about how to integrate. They had lots of concerns about performance, integration, and above all security. A couple of years ago, a Chrome engineer ran an experiment: He took containers, a way of separating parts of a system that’s common in data centers, and ran them on a local machine. Android in one, Chrome OS is another. “A few of us saw it,” Sengupta says, “and our eyes literally opened up.” That was the answer.
Android apps solve a couple of Chrome OS’s lingering problems. Most important, they bring all the software people are now accustomed to using, onto a new platform. Remember when people used to complain about Chromebooks not having Word? There are now billions of people who now reasonably expect their laptop to have Snapchat and Uber. Apps also offer offline support in a much more robust way, and they bring the kind of multi-window, desktop-app functionality that feels familiar to the old-school Windows users. Of course, they also require totally different things than traditional computer software. Most apps assume you’re using them on small, touch-enabled screens, running on devices with cellular connections and a bunch of sensors that you definitely don’t have in your laptop.

So, OK, new question: what does a laptop look like in the age of mobile?

New Puzzle Pieces

Imagine you want to build a Chromebook. Great idea! Before you can do anything, you have to deal with Alberto Martin Perez, a product manager on the Chrome OS team. Perez is the keeper of Google’s documentation, the huge set of requirements and standards given to all Chromebook makers. The documentation is an ever-changing organism, concerned with everything from how much RAM and battery life a Chromebook needs, to how hard you have to press the trackpad before it registers as a click. If your Chromebook takes more than ten seconds to boot, or the power button isn’t on the top right? Get on the plane back to China and try again. The long, complex document is written in engineer-speak and is remarkably detailed. It’s Google’s first line of defense against corner-cutting manufacturers.

When Google decided to integrate Android apps with Chrome OS, Perez and his team combed through the documentation. “We wanted to make sure we were ahead,” Perez says. “It’s really easy to change a web app, it’s really hard to change a laptop.” Google now strongly recommends—which is a lightly-veiled warning that it’ll be mandatory soon—that every Chromebook include GPS, NFC, compass, accelerometer, a fingerprint reader, and a barometer. Those are all smartphone parts that have made little sense in a laptop before. But Android apps are inspiring manufacturers to make devices that move, that adapt, that take on different forms in different contexts.

Computer industry execs believe Chrome OS has come into its own, that people will now choose it over Windows for reasons other than price. For many new customers, says Stacy Wolff, HP’s global head of design, “their first device was a smartphone. And they look for the cleanliness, the simplicity, the stability of what we see in those devices.” That’s the thinking behind the sharp and business-like HP Chromebook 13, the company’s new $500 laptop. Wolf sounds eager to continue down the fancy road, too: When I ask why the Chromebook 13’s not as nice as the Windows-powered Spectre 13, which is one of the best-looking and lightest laptops ever made, he pauses to make sure he’s not giving too much away. “I can’t talk about the future, but there’s nothing that stops us from continuing to go and revolutionize that space.” The $1,000 Chromebook used to be a silly sideshow, Google’s way of overshooting. Soon enough, it’ll be a totally viable purchase.

The next few months are shaping up to be the PC market’s most experimental phase in a long time. The addition of Android apps “begs for higher performance hardware and new form factors to support these new use cases,” says Gary Ridling, Samsung’s senior vice president of product marketing. Batteries are more important than ever, as are touch-friendly displays. Windows manufacturers have been experimenting with convertible and detachable devices for the last few years, but the combination of Android and Chrome will actually make them work.

The results are already starting to trickle out. Acer announced the Chromebook R13, which has a 1080p, 13-inch touchscreen that flips 360 degrees, along with 12 hours of battery, 4 gigs of RAM, and up to 64 gigs of storage. It’ll only get crazier from here: you’ll see laptops that are maybe more like tablets, a few that are maybe even a little bit like smartphones, and every imaginable combination of keyboard, trackpad, and touchscreen. Google and its partners all see this as the moment Chromebook goes from niche—for school, or travel, or your Luddite dad—to mainstream. “The ability to run their favorite apps from phones and tablets,” Ridling says, “without compromising speed, simplicity, or security, will dramatically expand value of Chromebooks to consumers.”

When the legendary Walt Mossberg started his personal technology column at the Wall Street Journal in 1991, he opened with a now-classic line: “Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it isn’t your fault.” 25 long years later, that story’s finally changing. Chromebooks are exactly the computer the world needs now: simple, secure, usable. They just work. And starting this fall, they’ll work they work the way people do in 2016: online everywhere, all the time, in a thousand different ways. “Personal computing” left desks and monitors behind a long time ago, and personal computers are finally catching up."
chromebooks  laptops  2016  martiperez  android  chromeos  google  acer  srg 
september 2016 by robertogreco

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