Google building a tablet version of Chrome OS

By on April 7, 2011, 10:41 AM
Details in the source code reveal that Google is building a tablet version of Chrome OS. The search giant confirmed the news, but it wouldn't discuss timing details, saying simply that tablets are not a priority for the browser-based operating system.

"We are engaging in early open-source work for the tablet form factor, but we have nothing new to announce at this time," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. "Chrome OS was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of form factors. We expect to see different partners build different kinds of devices based on Chrome OS, but for this initial release we are targeting the notebook form factor."

CNET has made a list of tablet-specific various changes in the Chrome OS source code that occurred during March and April:

  • The "user-agent string" text that browsers supply so Web servers can deliver the appropriate version of a Web site--for touch user interfaces. The string includes the term "CrOS Touch," not just CrOS as before. "This lets Web sites that are already customizing for tablet experiences easily adapt to support tablet ChromeOS devices," the programming change log notes.
  • A "virtual keyboard" with a number of keys--tab, delete, microphone, return, and shift, for example--drawn in SVG so they can be shown by a browser. Screen keyboards are, of course, a necessity with tablets.
  • A variety of moves to make the browser more touch-friendly, for example by increasing the space around items to make it easier to select them with a touch interface.
  • A revamped new-tab page (which people see when they open a new, blank tab) that's "optimized for touch." The current page shows an array of Web applications downloaded from the Chrome Web Store, but the modified version adds multiple screens of icons in the style of iOS devices.

The discovery is significant for multiple reasons, but one sticks out like a sore thumb. Five months ago, Google outlined its mobile OS strategy, specifically saying that Android is for touch, Chrome OS is for keyboards. The company emphasized that Android is tailored for mobile devices with touchscreens while Chrome OS is primarily designed around something with a keyboard (traditional computers such as netbooks and laptops). That's not to say that Android devices can't have keyboards or that Chrome OS can't do touch, but it was a useful generalization that now appears to have gone out the window.

This raises many questions, the biggest being around what will happen to Android. We hope that Google has a plan on converging it somehow with Chrome OS and isn't simply plowing forward blindly with a second mobile OS, just for the sake of making a browser-based one.

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