Google is adding more features to Chromebook applications so that they can be used without accessing the Web, addressing a common complaint among users who want the laptops to function more like traditional PCs.
Although Web use remains a central feature of Chromebooks, Google recently added the ability to edit videos and watch full movies offline, for instance. A shorter update cycle means that the company can be more responsive to user demand.
"The platform has evolved and keeps improving," said Caesar Sengupta, vice president of product management for Chromebooks at Google. "It is an OS that updates every six weeks. It keeps getting better."
Chromebooks can be used for far more offline purposes than two years ago and cloud services also mean they are a more viable alternative to traditional PCs, Sengupta said. The retailer Woolworths, for instance, has adopted Chromebooks over PCs for employee use.
"As the ecosystems evolve, more and more developers are writing apps using Chrome APIs so they work offline," he said.
Google is targeting Chromebooks specifically at users who want to replace PCs with Windows XP, which is no longer supported by Microsoft. Google and partners are offering discounts to those who want to replace XP PCs with Chromebooks. Google has marked applications that can work offline in its Chrome Apps store and more applications are being added to that list, Sengupta said.
"The world has changed, you're looking at different kind of [computing] needs than XP," Sengupta said.
Beyond software, Chromebooks are also going to be faster to speed up gaming, videoconferencing and other tasks.
Chromebooks with Intel's Core i3 processors, which is at the midrange of chips that go into Windows laptops, will be out this year from Dell and Acer. Google and Intel this week announced laptops from Lenovo, Asus and Toshiba, and expect 20 models to be available by the end of the year.
But cloud-based services and features remain central to Chromebooks, so Google is populating Chromebooks with features that make more Web services accessible. One new addition is Google Now, which uses voice activation to let users get news, make a phone call, schedule an appointment, or map a location. The feature is in Android-based smartphones and tablets, and much like Apple's Siri, uses speech recognition to process requests.
Google is also looking to put the Chrome OS into the mini-desktop Chromebox and also digital-signage products that update automatically, Sengupta said.
More remote management and virtual desktop tools are also being added so the computers can be remotely managed more effectively in corporate environments.
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