Life With Google Chromebook: Mac/Windows Killer

What’s better than the best customer support in the world? No need for customer support, that’s what.

And that is the story of the best PC in the world, the Google  Chromebook.

Once upon a time, in the 1990s, I wasted probably 100-plus hours per year on various forms of PC support and maintenance. Booting up the PC took at least two minutes, there were updates to all sorts of programs, and the troubleshooting took place over the phone with some Dell rep located in India.

It was an eternal nightmare. And a time-sink.

Then came the Apple  stores, with their Genius bars. It took a few years before I made the jump, but I eventually switched a majority of my PCs from Windows to Apple. Every time there was a problem — and God knows, there’s one every few days — I just take the elevator and walk around the corner to the Apple store down the street.

The Apple store’s Genius bar may not be perfect, but it was a huge upgrade from being on hold for two hours before talking to Dell’s Indian tech support person. I couldn’t have been happier. Every time I had a computer problem, I felt like I had been picked up on the battlefield by a Marine helicopter and medivaced to a fine hospital, a.k.a., the Apple store’s Genius bar.

I wasn’t the only one who switched to Apple because of their superior tech support. As I looked around me at strangers and friends alike, it was evident that the Apple model was winning. The primary pain point for PC ownership was the constant need for various classes of tech support, and the Apple Genius Bar was the best game in town.

So I bought the stock — Apple. The investment thesis was the Genius Bar.

Then came December 2010. Google sent me its first Chrome OS laptop to test. I got it right away: This was the simplest device on Earth to use. It made Android and Apple’s iOS seem complicated in comparison.

This first iteration wasn’t perfect. It didn’t have off-line access to Gmail, Docs and Calendar. The hardware was a bit under-powered, especially for multi-media such as telephony and YouTube.

Over time, though, Google fixed the initial modest shortcomings of the Chrome OS. Now, the product has become so good that it’s leading the laptop sales charts on Amazon, and Google can’t keep up with demand. Try ordering a Google Chrome PC and see if you’re lucky getting one soon!

In these two most recent years, I have continued to go to the Apple store for all the frequent and unpredictable support my Mac needs. In addition, the Microsoft store also opened, also a few blocks away. From this standpoint, things have only gotten better — basically, Microsoft caught up with Apple, as far as my needs are concerned.

In other words, my Mac and Windows PCs now have the best doctors money can buy. Every time they get sick, they get quick, good and unbureaucratic care.

But that’s like saying that if I have cancer or a bad heart, I can pop into the Mayo Clinic because I live five blocks away. I’d rather not be sick to begin with.

Which brings me back to the Google Chrome PCs.

With the Google PCs, there’s no need for any tech support. In over two years, I have never encountered anything that would cause me to engage tech support — on the phone or in person.

It’s like never being sick, never having a disease, never having to go to the doctor. If that’s not like winning the lottery, I don’t know what is.

This may be a bit hard to understand if you have never spent any quality time with a Google Chrome PC, using it in your regular work-flow for a number of days or weeks. It kind of sounds like magic. What’s the catch?

Yes, it’s true — a Chromebook can’t do everything. It can’t run iTunes. It can’t run Skype. It can’t . . . well, it can’t run all sorts of other oddball programs.

But it can do everything I do on the Web, which at this point is pretty much everything I do. When was the last time I ventured outside a Web browser for Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs/Drive? Yeah, a couple of years ago.

The Google PC boots right away, as if it had been just put to “sleep” mode on a Microsoft or Apple device. You don’t have to worry about upgrades; it upgrades itself. You don’t have to worry about saving your stuff; that’s automatic. You basically don’t have to worry anything. Just log in with your Google account, and everything is there.

And by “there” I mean on all your Google Chrome PC devices. There is no longer any need to lug that laptop from home to the office and back. Everything is instantly replicated across all machines, so you can have a Chromebook on every table, office, and home — and you can just pick up where you left off.

Yes, I know Microsoft and Apple are now trying to narrow this gap with Office 365 and iCloud. But they’re still not on par with Google in terms of how elegantly and seamlessly this works. Maybe some day, that will change — but now Google remains way ahead in the way its cloud infrastructure interfaces with its Chrome and Android devices.

In the meantime, Google Chrome laptops are $200 to $450 and falling. Microsoft Windows 8 touchscreen PCs start at $500 and MacBooks start at $1,000. You can buy a few extra Chromebooks for the same price.

Google is sitting on a gold mine here. They need to expand the Chrome OS device portfolio with even better hardware: Better battery life, bigger and better screens, and so forth — even tablets and smartphones. Take a look at the best Windows Ultrabooks and the MacBook Air, and offer consumers premium Chromebooks.

For example, people are now buying a few $200 to $250 Chromebooks, giving them to their children and elderly family members, ensuring that they don’t have to spend any time on tech support, ever. Going forward, they’ll be willing to spend more than $250 to $450 on premium Chrome OS hardware. Perhaps they’d pay $500 to $600 for truly awesome 13-to-14 inch Chromebooks with 10-plus hours of battery life. Larry Page says battery life sucks now, so they had better take a hint from the boss.

Back to the central point, where I began this article: Having the best PC tech support is the second best thing on Earth. The only thing that’s better is not needing any tech support to begin with. And that’s Chrome OS in a nutshell.

Google is sitting in the catbird seat for this great new paradigm in computing: Trouble-free PCs. Will it be able to exploit this opening in the competitive landscape?

 

[Cross-posted at The Street]