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Thursday, December 17, 2009, 08:05 am PT (11:05 am ET)

Beyond 'Nexus One,' Google rumored to create netbook hardware

As reports continue to state Google will sell a custom built phone very soon, a new rumor suggests the search company will also release its own branded netbook PC when Chrome OS debuts in late 2010.

If true, it would mean that Google and Apple are set to compete yet again, this time in the hardware and software PC business. The latest rumor is just more evidence of why Google CEO Eric Schmidt was forced to resign from the Apple Board of Directors in August, as the two companies face off with competing browsers, phones and, in the future, operating systems.

According to TechCrunch, sources claim Google has talked to at least one PC maker "about building a netbook for Google directly." The talks supposedly went as far as Google making a request for proposal with "quite detailed technical specifications." Discussions about building the low-cost netbook are said to be taking place already.

"They’re not in any particular hurry and seem to be aiming for the 2010 holiday season, a full year from now," author Michael Arrington said. "Our understanding is that Google intends to have the devices built, branded with Google, and then sell them directly to consumers. The only firm tech spec we've heard is that they'll be mobile enabled, and likely tied to one or more carriers with a subsidy."

Arrington also first reported of an imminent release of a "Google Phone" in November. While that news remains unconfirmed, the search company recently issued custom-built handsets to its employees. In addition, various reports have alleged that Google will directly sell the unlocked "Nexus One" phone contract-free starting in January, although U.S. carrier T-Mobile is also rumored to offer the device at a subsidized price.

Details on the supposed Chrome OS netbook are unknown at this point, such as what kind of processor the system might employ. However, Arrington speculated that it might run on an ARM CPU or Nvidia's Tegra line, bypassing the Intel Atom commonly found in low-cost machines today.

It was the announcement of Chrome OS that proved to be the final straw for Schmidt's presence on the Apple board. Google issued a technical introduction of the Web-based operating system in November.

Chrome OS will utilize the company's Chrome Web browser, running on a specialized Linux kernel. Software on the operating system will be Web applications that run within their own sandbox. There will be no native apps, and the operating system will not be nearly as sophisticated as Apple's Mac OS X.

As the netbook market has grown over the past year, rumors and projections have persisted that Apple would eventually release its own low-cost machine. Instead, Apple has remained in the premium-priced market, where it has achieved high margins and record profits from Mac sales.

The Chrome for Mac Web browser finally achieved its beta release milestone earlier this month. The beta release came more than a year after its Windows counterpart, which was much later than the company had hoped.