What will Google gouge to make this profitable?
The current rumor du jour in the tech industry involves a Google scheme to push subsidized $20/month Chrome notebooks. Google has confirmed the imminent sale of Chromebooks, and admitted that some sort of subscription option will exist. But no further details have yet emerged. These subsidized Chromebooks would function almost exclusively in the cloud. Which would make them more stable, less expensive and more durable.
Unfortunately, it would also render them almost useless when out of WiFi range. Getting on the plane or heading off on a road-trip would separate you from your music, saved files and other media. Given the proliferation of 3G signal in this country, this isn't a crippling shortcoming. But Google is still working on a 'fix' to seal this hole.
They are likely to end up instituting some sort of caching system to save your most frequently or recently played media files. And I'd expect some option to set which documents and files will save copies onto the hard drive. It isn't clear if the Chrome OS notebook will launch with some sort of wireless data service, but that seems extremely likely. The CR-48 gives users free 100 MB/mo access to Verizon's network.
The $20/mo price is clearly for just the notebook itself. I'd expect 2-year agreements to be the standard, as that works out to $480 total. Given the fact that a Chrome notebook can make due with less powerful internals, the $240 / 1 year option may also be feasible. Either way, any data service will certainly necessitate an added cost.
Google's recently launched Music Beta and YouTube's expanded video rental service are both methods of driving content to the Chrome notebook without requiring storage space. By allowing people to upload their music collection to the cloud and stream it to their device, you eliminate the need for gigabytes of storage space. And the aforementioned local caching would ensure that users are never without their tunes.
While a cheap, pay-by-month notebook sounds like a brilliant way for poor students to save money, I'd expect Google to go with a razor/razorblade approach to monetizing it. You put that 'cheap' notebook in someone's hands, and then tell them the only way to really make use of it is to pay for additional services and content. You can't just dump your hard drive contents onto a Chrome Notebook. It won't have enough space.
It's too early to tell what sort of cloud-based for-pay services Google will offer with their new Chrome platform, but I expect we'll see some sort of comprehensive cloud package launch for a set monthly fee. Whatever the exact details end up being, you can rest assured Google is already calculating how much cash they can squeeze out of each user.