The netbook promises convenience and capability in a small, lightweight, and generally inexpensive package, and the concept of a smartbook goes even further: a handy-dandy combination of smartphone and notebook. Alas, most netbook offerings come burdened with a full-blown Windows operating system, which runs slowly on performance-limited netbook hardware and saps battery life. And Windows is not exactly smartphone-oriented.
Could Google's Android come to rescue the netbook and enable the smartbook vision? After all, Android is a fast, lightweight OS, proven in the mobile phone market, with an elegant user interface and application portability. It's a natural candidate for the OS inside your dream netbook.
[ See what it takes to build the ideal Android smartbook in InfoWorld's slideshow. | Learn the truth about the Chrome OS and the questions around the Android OS. | Discover what makes the perfect laptop in InfoWorld's animated concept. ]
There are signs that Google is preparing for a new generation of netbooks and smartbooks, with its OS at the center -- but it's not so clear which Google OS. Motorola's Droid smartphone shipped recently based on Android 2.0, which adds interesting netbook-oriented features such as variable screen size. But then last week Google demonstrated its Chrome OS, the core of a future cloud-based Web appliance, slated to ship a year from now, raising questions about whether Android is really appropriate as a netbook OS. Is Android a dessert topping or a furniture polish? Both, according to Google CEO Eric Schmid, who implied at last week's Chrome OS press conference that the Android and Chrome OSes could merge in the near future.
Even as the Android-Chrome OS relationship plays out, Android-based netbooks have also begun to appear: Acer just shipped its $350 Aspire One D250-1613.
With the market on the verge of defining itself, now is a good time to help manufacturers fine-tune their imminent offerings by laying out the essential features of a future ideal smartbook running some variant of Google's Android. Although Android is really mostly the Linux OS and WebKit browser foundation under the covers, it sports a novel user interface geared specifically for mobile use. That interface requires specific hardware capabilities, and mobile operation in general demands networking features that aren't found in most notebooks or even smartphones.