Google Aims New Intel-Powered Chromebooks At Mainstream Buyers

Hoping to push its Chromebook computers into the consumer and business mainstream, Intel and Google today put some marketing muscle behind a raft of new machines from Hewlett-Packard, LG, and others.

Chromebooks, portable computers that depend largely on applications and data in the cloud instead of installed applications, have begun to sell at a rapid clip. IDC estimates about 2.5 million of them sold last year, but expects shipments to jump 68% this year. But many consumers and businesses remain uncertain about depending on computers that must have an Internet connection.

The new machines, based on Intel’s Haswell chip, will come out starting in a month or two in the U.S., with a total of 20 slated to be available by the second half of the year, up from four as of last September.

They include a Chromebox from HP, a small device that can power a screen, available in the U.S. in June. There also will be a new device called a Chromebase for $349 from LG, available in the U.S. later this year as well. In addition, Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and Toshiba are introducing new Chrome machines based on Intel’s Celeron chips, offering up to 11 hours of battery life. Not least, Dell and Acer will release more powerful Chromebooks based on Intel’s i3 processor.

Google’s push is a renewed attack on Microsoft’s Windows-based machines. Although Google itself isn’t selling the Chrome machines, anything that makes it easier and cheaper to get online will help Google reach more people with its search and other services and ensure they will continue to see its very lucrative search ads.

For its part, Intel needs to find new markets beyond personal computers, which are in a long-term decline thanks to cloud-based devices, especially smartphones and tablets. Although Intel chips now power more than half of Chrome devices, rival ARM has continued to hold a major share. “We’re aggressively pursuing new form factors,” said Navin Shenoy, VP and general manager of mobile client platforms for Intel’s PC Client Group. ”We will embrace multiple operating systems.”

The Intel-powered machines, along with improvements to the Chrome operating systems they run on, are intended to answer a couple of uncertainties users have about cloud-based machines like Chromebooks. For one, they’re seen as underpowered, unable to run demanding or multiple applications at the same time. Intel demonstrated new Chrome machines running games as well as Google Hangout videoconferences with document editing at the same time.

Google also promised upgrades to Chrome that will allow movies and TV shows to be viewed offline. It’s also planning to add its Google Now concierge service and voice actions that to date have been available only on Android smartphones and tablets.

Schools are a particular focus for Chromebooks. Caesar Sengupta, a VP of product management for Google, said some 10,000 schools are using them, double the number last September. Intel also announced a reference design for education.

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