Today Google announced a new netbook offering, called Chromebook. It's being touted as a new kind of computer that offers "nothing but the web." A chromebook will look like a laptop, only it won't have any software programs or storage space. The only thing it has is a web browser, from which you will be able to access your email (from Gmail or other online mail services), calendar (Google calendar), documents (most likely from Google Docs), social networks (like Facebook) and any other web-based service.

This is the culmination of Google's strategy to release browser-based services for just about everything, but in particular around productivity apps like email and word processing. Its social web services initiatives have been patchy at best, so Google hasn't managed to muscle in on Facebook or Twitter like it has with Microsoft and Yahoo. Nevertheless, this is what all of that activity was building up to: the Chromebook. But do consumers need this device; and if they do, is it too pricey?

This promotional video is a nice summary of how the Chromebook is different from a regular laptop. It starts up in 8 seconds, there are no software programs and "no messy desktop."

Other features for the Chromebook include "full support for the latest web standards" (along with Adobe Flash, a clear poke at Apple - which doesn't support Flash in the iPad) and "amazing web apps" from the Chrome Web Store. Google also points out that it won't require virus protection or manual software updates and patches (a clear poke at Microsoft).

3 Markets for Chromebook: Consumers, Education, Business

Chromebook was announced today at the Google I/O event. The device is being targeted at three main groups: consumers, education, business.

For both education and business, Chromebooks will be available for leasing from June 15th. For businesses, the monthly rate will be $28 per user and for schools it will be $20 per student. A 3-year subscription contract will be required for both businesses and education institutes.

Earlier today ReadWriteWeb's Audrey Watters offered her thoughts on how Chromebook will fare in the education sector. Audrey's assessment is that this initiative will ultimately benefit students. Our analysis of Chromebook for business will be coming shortly on our ReadWriteEnterprise channel.

Chromebook for Consumers

How about the consumer market - will the Chromebook be an attractive device for consumers who already have a lot of choice for computing devices?

The first key consideration is pricing, since computer hardware is a fiercely competitive industry.

Chromebooks will be offered initially by hardware manufacturers Samsung and Acer, with prices starting at $349 for Acer Chromebook (WiFi) and going up to $499 for the Samsung Series 5 (3G). Chromebooks will be available via Amazon and Best Buy from June 15 in the US. They'll also be sold in UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy - with the vendors to be announced soon.

Although it's not the same class of computing device, given who Google's main competitors are it is worth checking the Chromebook against Apple's tablet. The Chromebook is noticeably less expensive than the iPad. The lowest priced WiFi iPad is $499 and the highest price 3G model iPad is $829 (with carrier plan).

However, in comparison to the most popular netbooks, the Chromebook begins to look a little pricey. The five bestselling netbooks on Amazon range in price from $250-$285.

The Google brand may be sufficient to sell the Chromebook at a slight premium ($65-$100) on its netbook competition, but it seems like a risky move by Google to price it that high in this market.

The other key consideration for consumers is: do I actually need another computing device in my home?

Many homes already have a desktop or laptop, although here the price point for Chromebook is very attractive. An average consumer (and I class myself in this category) might say: "A computer for $350 and I don't need software because everything is done on the Web? That sounds great!" I think Google will be able to market that point effectively, given its sophisticated range of productivity web services.

Google will struggle to sell the netbook to power users, be they from the computer industry or any other industry where specialized computer software is required. For most power users, they will need a laptop and increasingly they will use a tablet too. The Chromebook is right in-between and so it doesn't have a good selling point for power users.

Overall, the Chromebook is a very promising device from Google and the culmination of its strategy to compete with Microsoft with browser-based productivity apps. Provided that the price point doesn't deter too many consumers, the Chromebook is likely to be a success. Let us know whether you agree or not.