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Here comes Chrome

Here, Facebook is on the move too. It has already targeted the huge base of users who do not have a full smartphone but use a mobile browser, via handsets like INQ’s ‘Facebook phone’, which is heavily optimized for the social app. Last week it announced an app for featurephones, which works on the Snaptu Java-based platform, basically an app library for basic handsets. Such moves will be important to raise Facebook’s profile in emerging markets, and other user bases where the cellphone may be the primary method of accessing the internet, but is not yet ‘smart’.

Google keeps talking about extending its ads and apps reach in China and other markets via Android, but Facebook is taking real action. For instance, last month its founder Mark Zuckerberg met Wang Jianzhou, chairman of China Mobile, to discuss possible cooperation, in a country where Google has encountered hostility and powerful local competition from Baidu.

One of Google’s new weapons will be its second operating system, Chrome OS, which epitomizes the new wave of mobile web behavior, focused on the browser, cloud-based storage and content streaming. There is some confusion over how Google will position its two OSs, but a relatively small announcement this week offered clues to a far wider strategy to harness both systems as part of the much-needed creation of an end-to-end platform based entirely on Google controlled services.

The announcement was support for remote printing from Android devices – provided the user has Chrome on their PC first. In time, said one Google source, the balance will shift from the Google browser to Chrome OS, providing a superior experience for those with that browser-as-OS on their netbooks.

This is a relatively trivial example, and currently US-only, but it indicates how Google will try to create a multilayered environment for mobile and web usage, which it controls, combining the cloud services of Chrome OS netbooks and cloudbooks, with the truly mobile activities of Android phones. In such a world, Google will hope Windows and other rivals will be squeezed out, and the pull of new Android functions such as printing will encourage consumers to seek out the Chrome browser-as-OS.

Even in this first stage, where it cannot ignore Windows PCs or iPhones, it is denying many of its own mantras about free choice of web platforms, by insisting on its own browser and email client, and sidelining IE, Firefox and others.

The first feature to combine Google’s web and mobile platforms lets people send documents from Android (or iPhone) to a remote printer. "Let's say you need to print an important email attachment on your way to work so that it's waiting for you when you walk in the door," wrote Tyler Odean, of Google's Cloud Print team, in a blog post. "With Gmail for mobile and Google Cloud Print... you can."

Users first need to connect their printers to the Google Cloud Print service, which requires them to have Chrome OS, or to download Chrome for Windows, and then enable the Google Print Cloud connector. Printing is done from within Gmail – another Google app of course – and attachments in Word, pdf and other formats can be supported as well as email messages.

It’s a small step, but the kind of manoeuvre that appears uninteresting. Still, it finds Google entrenched in a critical place in the value chain, and almost impossible to oust. This time, though, its new CEO will often find Facebook has got there first.

Copyright © 2011, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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