But, the biggest news has nothing to do with Chrome OS itself. Rather, it has to do with Google finally achieving their goal of free wireless data.
This, of course, means many different things to many different people. I’ll outline how it will change everything, again, after the break.
First a quick recap, in case you didn’t read our liveblog of the announcements. Chrome OS netbooks will ship with 100 MB of free data per-month, for at least the first two years of ownership.
Google’s choice of Verizon as a network partner for today’s data makes sense in the short run, but stands out in the long run. By using GOBI as the Chrome OS radio, Google was able to have all four carriers fight for who would offer free data. And, Verizon’s net neutrality pact gave them the win.
For those of you that didn’t read our coverage of Verizon’s net neutrality pact with Google, they essentially agreed to be net-neutral on wired data (DSL, FiOS, etc), while agreeing to be not net-neutral for wireless data. That pact allowed Google to get the data deal done with Verizon. Chrome OS netbooks will likely be prioritized below all other Verizon devices, especially when the customer is on the free data tier.
Many, including myself, thought this day would arrive with Sprint and Clearwire. Google’s massive cash infusion into WiMAX technology made free 4G seem the odds-on favorite, even if it was in an ad-supported infrastructure. That may still happen, but seeing as WiMAX deployment has slowed with the economy, Google obviously did not want to wait. This will further take steam out of Clearwire, and make it a more attractive acquisition target for Google.
Winner? Google. They get 3G today, and the potential to own not just their own network, but their own network technology in the 4G era. With what we’ve seen from WebM, WebP, and other massive acquisitions from Google, WiMAX could become a free checkbox feature in a plethora of devices.
But, let’s talk more about today. Now, netbook buyers will have 100 MB of data for free, and Chrome OS adoption will undoubtedly surge because of this. Microsoft has already cut Windows 7 Starter licensing razor-thin, and may now have to find some way to cut a similar deal, without hemorrhaging cash. That will take time, and in that time, Google will surge in user base.
What this will really change however, is web apps. Web site owners, developers, and app developers will be under intense pressure to cut their data utilization, and increase their usage of permanent caching stores and tactics. Essentially, customers/readers aren’t going to be pleased when a single web site eats up megabytes of data, Cookie Monster-style.
For at least the forseeable future, we’re going to see web sites, and web apps alike, take different tactics on how to deal with this problem. Many web site owners will simply be more mindful of data, opting for more-compressed images, links to high-bandwidth content, cautions, and warnings. It will also mean faster adoption of technologies like WebP that are specifically designed to cut the bandwidth that a web site uses.
More advanced sites however, will have more difficulty in deciding how to handle Chrome OS. One option is to offer up the mobile version of a site. However, something designed for a 320×240 pixel display isn’t going to look very elegant on a netbook.
The fallback position then becomes the “tablet view” for a site. If you’re already making an iPad-friendly UI, make a few tweaks and extend it to Chrome OS. This too, however, has pitfalls. A layout designed for an HTML5 multi-touch device is not going to run as well on a netbook, you’re going to have to make compromises or water down features to appease both devices.
Then, finally, is the notion of a Chrome OS Web App. This is where it appears that Google hopes most developers will go. Instead of shoehorning Chrome OS into one of the existing site layouts, Google hopes that developers will create a web app that has persistent, on-device storage for everything from layout to already-downloaded content. From there, AJAX pulls will simply flow in the new data, and a web site with megabytes of content can be refreshed in mere kilobytes. Even if you cleared your browser’s standard cache, or are running in privacy mode…
Of course, this means that developers will, once again, have to augment their app quiver. A serious high-value site must now have an App Store app (or iOS web app view), Android app (or WebKit app view), a tablet-friendly web view, and a Chrome OS app (or web view).
While many feared fragmentation of device app platforms, the real fear should be turned to fragmentation of where web developers must place their development dollars. Chrome OS will have to fit into a holistic development model in order to be accommodated in many budgets, and don’t even think that a standard for cross-platform web apps will result any time soon.
Google, Apple, and Microsoft (not to mention Nokia and HP) all want developers thinking in their company’s logic, and are going to be offering more and more integrated (and free) solutions like these to woo customers into convincing developers to follow their own respective development paths. Will we see an iPod touch 3G with free data from AT&T? If not, Verizon seems willing to deal.