The second day of Google (NSDQ: GOOG) I/O was all about Google’s Chrome Web browser and its budding Chrome OS project. Google’s Chrome leader, Sundar Pichai, ran through a morning of announcements, which included pricing details on Chromebooks, welcome news about Angry Birds on the Web, and a business-oriented subscription computing plan that could be very interesting. Here’s a recap of the event as it unfolded.
A live stream of the keynote is available here.
– Chrome: Around 160 million people are using Chrome, Pichai said, up from 70 million users at last year’s Google I/O show. Rolling out a Mac version helped, but increased developer support made for a more attractive browser, Pichai said.
– Browser performance: Google showed off a demo with 2,000 fish milling about a virtual screen, building on the WebGL standard for performance. It looked more like 2,000 insects swarming as opposed to fish, but the idea was to show how the browser can handle a ton of simultaneous activities without draining system performance. That’s key to Google’s pitch of the Web as a development platform unto itself.
– Chrome Web Store: Google said 17 million applications have been obtained from its Chrome Web Store, which sells games and other Webby widgets. Today’s news: the store is going to be available in 41 languages allowing it to reach everyone who is running Chrome, another pitch to the assembled developers to build applications for Chrome.
Google also plans to roll out in-app payments within Web applications on the Chrome Web Store. This is a standard offering now for mobile native applications, allowing developers who want to offer their applications for free a chance to earn a little money through rewards, additional features, or other content within the app itself. One key difference between other approaches and Google’s: Google only plans to charge a 5 percent fee for using this technology inside Chrome Web apps, while other systems (like iOS and Android) take 30 percent of the payments processed.
– Kill The Pigs: Angry Birds, the mobile gaming smash, is coming to Chrome. Peter Vesterbacka from Rovio came out on stage to demonstrate the web version of the game running on Chrome, which can play at 60 frames per second on modern computers, he said. But what about if you’re offline? The entire game can be played offline because of local caching and storage features in the browser, and Chrome users will get a special set of Angry Birds levels. Vesterbacka expressed support for the 5 percent in-app fee, to chuckles throughout the room. Rovio will allow Angry Birds players on the Web to purchase the Mighty Eagle (which is totally cheating) to clear levels as its first in-app purchase offering.
– Chrome OS: Pichai pointed out that an awful lot of modern computers still follow antiquated instructions when booting up or running, which was the idea behind Chrome OS, which is basically nothing more than a Chrome browser as the sole user interface for a computer. They’re going to be called Chromebooks: instant-on booting, all-day battery life, and always connected through a series of WiFi hotspots and pay-per-usage wireless broadband connections.
Chromebooks will be updated very frequently, as often as every few weeks. That should allow Google to continue pushing speed updates to the Chromebooks, unlike conventional PCs or Macs which tend to get slower over time as more and more applications are installed.
One million people applied to be part of Google’s CR-48 pilot program, and Google has fixed a number of problems since then. The trackpad has been redesigned (which was badly needed) and Google has figured out a way to allow people to save files or import pictures. There’s a new file system that allows you to access files like music or movies, which will open music files in a new media player, allowing Google to address some of the more common complaints about the Web-operating system concept.
The new Chrome OS systems also have a better system for handling photos. Google demonstrated how you can plug an SD card into a Chromebook and upload pictures into Web services like Google’s Picasa through a Picasa Web application. As might be expected, this will also allow people with Office documents on a thumb drive to upload them via the USB port into Google Docs. But APIs will be provided so other Web services developers can design applications that work with the USB port.
Google Docs, Gmail, and a host of other Web applications will be able to work offline this summer on Chromebooks, Pichai said. Google’s vision of a Web-only world only works when you are connected, which can be a temperamental experience in many places around the world.
Samsung will ship the first Chromebook. It has a 12.1-inch display and claims both an 8-second boot time and 8 hours of battery life. Acer also plans to ship a smaller model, with an 11.6-inch screen and a full-size keyboard. Both models will be available in WiFi-only or 3G connected. Samsung is going to charge $429 for the WiFi version, and $499 for the 3G model. Acer will charge $399 and up, Pichai said.
June 15 is Chromebook launch day, through Best Buy and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) in the U.S. Other countries will get devices later, with the U.K., France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands in the first international rollout group.
– Businesses: Google has worked with companies like SAP and Citrix to make sure corporate applications can be accessed on Chromebooks. One of the early pitches for Chrome OS was within enterprise IT departments as a low-cost and highly secure laptop option for worker bees. Business customers will have access to the same two Chromebooks, and Google is also planning to make a Chrome box: a Mac Mini-like desktop system running Chrome OS.
Google’s going to offer an entire service with both Chrome hardware and software for $28 a user, offering management software in addition to the actual Chromebook itself. Educational customers will be able to get in on this option as well for $20 per user. The business services will roll out on the same day Chromebooks are launched in June, and in the same countries.
– More free stuff: Google also plans to give away a Chromebook to I/O attendees, building on yesterday’s Galaxy Tab giveaway. Developers will have to wait until June to get their hands on the system.