At some stores and businesses, Apple's iPads are available at fixed stations for quick Internet access by guests and employees. Google now wants to get into the act by pushing its own, lower-priced Chromebook devices for that purpose.
The Mountain View, Calif.,-based search and software giant has launched its management console for Chromebooks that can allow settings on a wide range of networked devices without individual log-ins.
Chromebooks, which can be as cheap as $250 and are made by a range of manufacturers, run Google's Chrome operating system and operate off Web-based applications rather than a suite of applications installed on the computer. Google also makes desktop Chromeboxes.
Two higher-end Chromebook Pixel devices were recently launched, selling for $1299 and $1499.
Easy To Customize
Writing on Google's official Enterprise blog Tuesday, Vidya Nagarajan, product manager of Chrome for Business, said Managed Public Sessions will make it easier for Chromebooks at shared "kiosks" to be used for ordering out-of-stock items while visiting a retail store, searching for books and Web browsing at a library, updating machine and inventory data from a factory's manufacturing floor, or accessing a company portal or human resources information at an employee break room. It could come in handy at a hotel business center , too, Nagarajan added.
"Administrators can easily customize any Chrome device to be a public session device using the Web-based management console," she said. "For security reasons, public session data is cleared on logout so the next user starts fresh."
The console, which can govern activity on both large and small networks, allows managers to track assets, create and manage user groups, control user access and set up and manage applications.
But Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, said the low cost, rather than ease of use, is the best argument Google can make for Chromebook kiosks.
"The Chromebook's simplicity of features/functions means it can be used successfully by virtually anyone," King told us.
"But the low price means both that it can be acquired cheaply or in volume and that damage or theft won't break the bank. These factors place the Chromebook well-above more complex low-end laptops and more desirable tablets. In essence, the Chromebook is to computing what flip phones are to mobile service providers -- usable, affordable and largely disposable."
He added that iPads, which begin at $329 for the 7.9-inch version or $499 for the 9.7-inch tablet , are too pricey for this kind of use case given the risk of theft, vandalism or simple disrepair from heavy use in most cases.
"But those features would also make the iPad a good choice for a high-end retail outlet planning similar services -- Bloomingdale's rather than Dillard's, or luxury hotels instead of Hyatts," King concluded.
Nagarajan's blog post featured testimonials from Dillard's, a Little-Rock, Ark.-based department store chain as well as from an Oregon public library and the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco.