There were an awful lot of devices running Google Android at CES this year. That includes tablets and ARM-based mini-laptops (call them smartbooks or netbooks if you like). But you know who didn’t have one to show? Asus. This despite the fact that the company kind of, sort of showed one off at Computex in June last year.

In an interview with ZDNet, Asus Chairman Jonney Shih explains that the company has prototype smartbooks in its labs running both Google Android and a pre-release version of Google Chrome OS. He’s just not sure if it makes sense to actually bring a product to market running either OS.

Probably the biggest obstacle to a successful ARM-based smartbook is the fact that it won’t be able to run Windows. That means that while you can surf the web, edit documents, watch movies, or do any number of other things on a netbook, there may still be many Windows apps that don’t run properly. And that could turn off some people that take one look at a mini-laptop and decide it should function like it’s bigger cousins.

Shih is also concerned that Google Android, which is showing up on a growing number of ARM-based devices that aren’t smartphones, was designed as a mobile operating system for phones with small screens. So he’s banking more on Chrome OS, which won’t be finished until later this year, but which Google is designing specifically for netbooks.

Still, it’s interesting to know that should Android-based smartbooks suddenly prove wildly successful, Asus may have a few tricks up its sleeve and the company may be able to pump out a model to meet market demand relatively quickly.

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7 replies on “Asus still mulling Android, Chrome smartbooks”

  1. I am with mlabrow. A proper linux distro is needed. Add Tegra 2 and Pixel Qi and you have a winner. Asus may be playing this smart. There will be a lot of failures on the road to smartbook success. Asus may be waiting to learn from other’s failures then jump into the market at full speed.

  2. The article says: “Probably the biggest obstacle to a successful ARM-based smartbook is the fact that it won’t be able to run Windows”

    It is not an obstackle, it is the most important advantage. Nobody in this world needs to “run windows” for other purpose than “running windows”. True, there are some situations, like using special equipment which only has interface to windows, or doing a job which is based on “running windows”. But in these situations you do not need a smartbook. “Smart” in smartbook means it does not need “windows”. That is why it is smart. The netbooks are not smart any more. They were smart in the beginning, before they got big harddisks and started running windows. Not very smart that.

    1. And the article forgets about the most important reason why Asus is careful with smartbooks: profit margins.

      Remember claims about Eee PC quickly going down to sub $200 territory? How the first models were actually the _cheapest_, even though they were quick mash-up of technology not meant for such machines? Well, Asus simply realized that majority of consumers are willing to pay more for an ultraportable.

      Smartbooks are a tough call. Sell them at that higher price, with better profit margins, and people won’t buy them (having identically priced x86 ones available). Sell them cheaply, adequately to low production costs…and they might cannibalize netbook sales and profit margins.

      We need a manufacturer who is not big into netbooks, to make smartbooks a reality…

  3. Since it is for web type programs and probably not powerful enough for major programs, I think people will not – usually – mind that it is not Windows. It would be interesting to see how Chrome OS will do on the smart book.

  4. I’m with Shih that I’m not certain exactly how well Android will do on the Smartbook market without a major revision… Having had a chance to play with a Smartbook demo unit, it’s the little things… Like having a touchpad with an OS that doesn’t have a cursor that I don’t think they’ve figured out… Between that and the fact that all the Apps in the market that Smartbooks are looking to tap as a installed application base aren’t optimized to work with the OS at that resolution and I become increasingly suspicious. I personally think that Skylight looks more compelling. I’d REALLY love to see one of these smart books with a proper Linux distro on it though.

    If something like the Tegra 2, really is as powerful as nVidia is claiming, and it can live up to the on paper specs, and the demo’s I’ve seen… I’d really be interested in a netbook, or smartbook, or whatever we’re supposed to call them, using that architecture.

    Everyone is so hung up on Windows. I don’t think most users really care about Windows though. If you make sure that they know up front that it’s different, but that it can still do what they want, so that they know they’ll have to form new usage patterns, and not just use the same muscle memory they’ve been using for years… I think you could sell a Linux based ‘smartbook’ to just about anyone, especially without a data plan, and an entry price in the $200-250 range. If it had a PixelQi display and all that, so much the better.

    I don’t think you need to move to a ‘slate’ device to break the Windows thrall. I just don’t. I also don’t currently think Android is the right fit. Neither apparently does Google, since they’re not visibly pursuing this market, and seem to be betting on ChromeOS.

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