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The Chromephone and Its Market Structure

Stocks in this article: GOOG NVDA BRCM INTC QCOM BBRY

Intel has made most CPUs for Chrome OS to date. It has, however, lagged far behind Qualcomm in the baseband business in the last two or more years, as exemplified by Qualcomm's winning the iPhone business. Chrome OS looks like it could be Intel's path to relevance in the mobile space.

Samsung is gunning hard for new business, and delivered the first quad-core Chrome OS laptop to date last October. One could easily see Samsung being involved in future Chromephone and Chromepad devices.

Broadcom has been behind plan since at least 2007 or 2008, when it talked a big game in the cellular baseband business. It hasn't had a competitive CPU either. Perhaps Chrome OS in phones and tablets will be Broadcom's big break? It's a long shot compared to the four aforementioned, but still it needs to be mentioned.

What about the overall system hardware, the devices?

Chromephones and Chromepads could fall into three hardware buckets:

1. Licensing to the OEMs.

This business is similar to the old-world Windows PC situation, or for that matter Google's current Chrome OS business. It differs from Android in the way that none of these OEMs could modify the software.

A list would look like this: Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony (SNE), Huawei, Acer, Asus, Lenovo (LNVGY), Dell (DELL) and HP (HPQ)

2. Motorola

Google owns 100% of Motorola, and says it's treating it "just like everyone else." On the other hand, we know that this is essentially impossible, even in theory. If Google treats it "just like everyone else," then why did it buy it in the first place?

Motorola would make Chromephones and Chromepads, just as it makes Android smartphones and tablets today. This should be obvious.

3. Google Itself

Google does engineer its own hardware, typically in conjunction with an ODM in China/Taiwan. This includes its ill-fated Q media player from last June, as well as the outstanding Google Pixel Chromebook, available as WiFi-only or on Verizon's (VZ) LTE network.

I envision that Google will start creating its own reference hardware for Chromepads and Chromephones -- as well as for Android, augmenting its current and much-beloved Nexus program where it works with partners such as Samsung, Asus and LG.

How Would Chromephones Be Sold?

Google will likely take an all-of-the-above approach to selling the mobile Chrome OS devices. This includes retail such as Wal-Mart (WMT) and Amazon (AMZN), as well as Google's own Web site. One can easily envision Google promoting these products more prominently in the Chrome browser, on its main search page.

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