CEA Line Shows: Netbooks, Tablets and OSes Dominate Discussion

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Question: Which application platform is the largest in terms of programs available, developers and potential users? Hint: It’s not the Apple iOS.

It’s the World Wide Web, according to Google Chrome Group Product Manager Mike Jazayeri who made the claim in a panel discussion with Mozilla’s VP of Engineering, Mike Shaver and Opera CDO Christen Krogh. The three discussed the current state of the browser as it relates to the OS at the CEA Line Shows held this week in New York.

The general consensus amongst the three was the differences between the OS and browser are shrinking rapidly; or as Krogh described it, where once the OS was in charge of “householding” programs and applications, now the web is “householding.” It’s to the point where Google sees a viable market in an entirely web-based operating system it calls Chrome OS, which Jazayeri said will be on a device for sale this year.

CEA Line Shows PanelJazayeri went on to explain the virtues of so-called cloud computing, not the least of which is never having to physically migrate data from device to device as it can be accessed instantly on the internet from any connected location.

Of course, the limitation of a cloud-based OS is that the device running it is effectively crippled where there is no data connection. And Jazayeri noted that the majority of computer owners still compute offline, mainly through applications and data stored directly on the device. A good example of this is a photographer touching up a picture in Photoshop. However, that number is shrinking and will shrink at a faster rate as HTML 5 brings new functionality to the web.

But what about developing markets that traditionally lag in consumer electronic adoption? Is there a Chrome OS for them? Opera’s Krogh brought up the interesting point that developing markets have skipped a generation of devices. They have directly adopted mobile technology from nothing instead of the last generation PCs now collecting dust in many closets across thedeveloped world. As a result, many of these markets are poised to embrace the cloud, though it will have to be on feature phones and not devices like the iPhone or an Android handset.

According to Krogh, average eastern Russian consumers keep their mobile phone for seven years (in the US, it averages about 18 months), passing it down to children and relatives when they acquire a new one, but never throwing it out. Developers tapping into these markets will have to design browsers that work on lower-end feature phones and also create apps that can run on those simple browsers.

Netbook vs. Notebook vs. Smartphone vs. Smartbook

In another discussion at the CEA Line Shows, panelists from LAPTOP Magazine, PC Magazine, Engadget and the NPD group converged on the stage for a lively debate on the growing product classes, and how tablets can mess it all up.

The panelists all seemed to agree that Android is not quite ready for prime time on a tablet as it was initially designed as a mobile OS and its functionality is minimized on devices that may not have a cellular data connection, GPS or a camera. Of course, the same can be said for iOS, though it’s worth noting that the iPhone operating system started as a tablet OS before Steve Jobs insisted it be ported into a smartphone.

When the discussion turned to smartbooks and the buzz the device class garnered coming out of CES, one panelist tried to put things in perspective, claiming: “Apple has sold 3 million more iPad tablets than smartbooks currently exist on the market.”

CEA Line Shows Panel

However, the tablet and smartbook-centric discussion did not sit well with one audience member representing FoxNews.com. When it came time for QA, he defiantly asked, “How many netbooks have been sold?”

He went on to answer his own question. “It’s a s—load. We all have them. Why aren’t we talking about that??

Actually, 36.3 million netbooks shipped in 2009, according to ABI Research, or 13 times the number of iPads sold worldwide. So his point was well taken. And while analyst predict the iPad and other tablets will eat into netbook sales, shipments are still growing, albeit it at a much slower rate than in 2008 and 2009. Some analysts suggest that could have more to do with market saturation than iPad availability. But no one on the panel made any such suggestion.




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