Banking on India’s growing internet penetration, Google is betting big on its low-cost laptop — the Chromebook for the Indian market.

“We are working with the major retailers in India and also carriers because they’ll play a big role. We’ve been in talks with Reliance Jio and others. We are talking to all the retail partners to create the best strategy for India,” Kan Liu, Director of Product Management, Chrome OS at Google, told BusinessLine .

Low-cost PCs

Chromebooks, which were the brain child of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, started out with a vision to offer low-cost PC access to people in countries like India. However, nine years since the launch of Chromebooks, there are hardly any takers for these in the very market it was targeted for.

This was partly because of its limited offline capabilities and partly for the lack of Windows or Linux operating systems, Chromebooks have so far been out of most large government tenders for PCs. While Google’s own Chromebooks are priced over $1000, Chromebooks from partners such as Dell and Samsung are priced at a fraction of that cost, targeting the first time laptop buyers.

“ChromeOS was built around WebOS originally. When we started nine years ago, the shift that was happening was that everybody was moving online. Whether it was watching YouTube, or checking emails, Facebook — everything was within the browser. We were building an experience that we thought was custom tailored to make that experience really really great. Arguably that’s not how an Indian user uses PCs today. So we also had to improve the product and add certain features and functionalities that Indian users were looking for, particularly offline usage,” Liu explained.

Focus on offline

Google is trying to get more offline capabilities to ChromeOS now, allowing Android apps to work on it and even several apps such as YouTube, Netflix and Adobe Lightroom to work in offline mode.

“We feel like the product fitness is finally getting there for the market. We see the opportunity now (in India) very clearly, we are very interested,” said Liu. Last week at its annual I/O developer conference, Google announced that Linux operating system will now be supported on Chromebooks. According to Liu, this decision was taken specially keeping the Indian market in mind where Linux or Windows are essential to penetrate the education segment.

“We sell more Chromebooks in US education than all other devices combined. We are like 60-70 per cent of the education market in the US,” Liu said highlighting the penetration of Chromebooks in education space in US, hoping to see a repeat of that in India with the company’s renewed efforts into the market.

“Education in India different than in other places. It is a very different strategy and we need to build relationships with different State governments. Several state governments ask for Linux as a requirement for laptop and now we have Linux. Education is a big part of why we brought Linux to Chromebooks,” Liu said.

Pichai’s pet project

Liu who started at Google in Sundar Pichai’s team, which started developing the Chrome browser and eventually the ChromeOS. Liu said the project is very close to Pichai’s heart as he looks it as a means to increase PC penetration in countries like India.

“ChromeOS was Sundar’s baby. We were in the client team. His very first project in Google was Toolbar, then we grew that together into a Client Team. It was all the software at Google which as a user you had to download and use on your computer,” Liu said. The Client Team was very different from the rest of Google. While the rest of Google engineers were focussed on the web with search page, Pichai’s Client team was trying to make online tools work as downloadable software for the PC. “We built more under Sundar. We built Toolbar, desktop search, Google pack — a bundle of Google software and then we built Chrome and eventually ChromeOS,” Liu said.

“To have access to computing, you had to make it affordable, easy to use, secure and fast. That was the vision with which we started. So going into countries like India is in our core DNA. We just need to make sure we don’t screw up. We have huge opportunity and responsibility. We want to make sure we want to do it right,” Liu said.