A flood of simple computing devices is hitting the market, aimed at pushing the cloud outside of the enterprise. Samsung and Acer have announced Chromebooks, which are light laptops for users who rely on the Internet for most of their computing. Startup ITWin is offering a USB device that helps users access files on remote computers over the Internet. Panasonic has shown a Viera tablet for its TV sets, which the company hopes will jumpstart its cloud services business.
Google is trying to push cloud computing to the masses through Chromebooks, which come with the Chrome OS, a thin version of Linux to run Web applications or light applications purchased from the Chrome Store.
Chromebooks are lightweight, albeit slightly expensive, alternatives to regular laptops. Google says Chromebooks provide instant access to the Web and a "faster, simpler and more secure experience without all the headaches of ordinary computers." Chromebooks have minimal storage, and applications and documents are stored in the cloud.
Samsung and Acer are the first companies to jump on the Chromebook bandwagon with the Series 5 and Chromia laptops, respectively. Starting at US$379, these laptops boot in under 10 seconds and support Adobe's Flash. The laptops include Intel's dual-core Atom N570 processor and come in Wi-Fi and 3G configurations. The laptops also have 16GB of solid-state drive storage, 2GB of RAM, two USB ports and weigh 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds).
The Acer Chromia, available in Wi-Fi ($379) and 3G ($449) configurations, comes with an 11.6-inch screen. It includes a 1.3 megapixel webcam and an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) port. The battery runs for six hours fully charged. Chromia can be ordered now at Amazon.com.
The Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks, also available in Wi-FI ($429) and 3G ($499) configurations, includes a 12.1-inch screen. The laptop offers 8.5 hours of battery life and is available at Amazon.com.
Startup iTwin offers a gadget of the same name for users to access files on remote PCs over the Internet. Resembling a USB drive, the device has two pieces that can be used to create a secure peer-to-peer network over the Internet between two PCs to share files. One piece goes into the main computer, while the other half needs to be carried and activated on any computer with an Internet connection. Both PCs have to be online and users need to carry an ITwin piece to remotely access files.
In essence, the device creates a "personal cloud' around a user's PC hard disk, with the data accessible through another PC, said Kal Takru, chief operating officer at iTwin. The $99 gadget allows users to watch, share, copy or back up documents. It works with PCs and soon, Macs.
The company is also looking beyond PCs into Apple's iPad tablets. In early 2012, iTwin hopes to release the device for the iPad, which will allow tablet users to access files stored on a PC.
"With iTwin for iOS, the user will just need to plug our device into an iPad to seamlessly connect to their PC and access all the files on it," Takru said. "Basically the user will have the full computing experience of the more powerful PC on the less powerful mobile device."
Panasonic's Viera cloud tablets
Panasonic this year is expected to ship the Viera tablet, which is designed to work with the company's Viera Internet-connected TV sets. Beyond being a flashy remote control with advanced visual toys, the tablet will provide easy access to a number of Internet-based services such as videostreams from Netflix delivered to Panasonic TV sets. The tablets, which will be available with screen sizes in 4, 7 and 10 inches, marks Panasonic's "first step toward cloud-based services," the company said earlier this year. The tablet will also provide a more interactive interface than TVs for customers to purchase content, Panasonic said.
The tablet will allow users to define viewing angles for specific scenes on the TV. The tablet can also display information related to specific scenes. Users can also check e-mail, use applications like Skype or access social networks. The company did not comment about price or availability of the product.