By AMIR EFRATI
Google Inc. has developed the first touchscreen laptops powered by its Chrome operating system to be sold later this year, according to people familiar with the matter, as the Internet giant tries to go toe-to-toe with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system.
Interestingly, the new Chrome devices also would compete with devices powered by Google’s other operating system, called Android, which took the smartphone and tablet market by storm in recent years, propelling Google as a force in mobile-device software.
Both Chrome and Android have their roots in Linux, an open-source operating system, and the company has said it is comfortable having two competing systems that help boost Google services such as its Web-search engine and YouTube.
It’s unclear exactly when the Chrome touchscreen laptops will go on sale and which hardware manufacturer is working with Google to build them. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.
Companies including Samsung Electronics Co. have built Chrome laptops that currently are on sale.
Google will have to lure programmers to write compatible applications for touchscreen Chrome devices. The Chrome laptops are designed primarily to run Web-based applications, including word-processing and games that run on programming technology called HTML5, as Google hopes to shift software development to what’s called “cloud computing” and away from applications anchored to PC operating systems such as Windows.
So far, Chrome hasn’t made a dent in Microsoft’s dominant market share, according to analysts, though some say that as many as 100,000 Chrome laptops, known as Chromebooks, were sold in the U.S. during the fourth quarter of last year—an improvement on the prior generations of Chrome laptops.
The rising sales came amid a big TV and online marketing campaign by Google to promote $199 and $249 Chromebooks manufactured by Samsung and Acer Inc. and sold online and through retailers such as Best Buy Co.
Chrome’s shift to touchscreen devices comes as the distinction between laptops and tablets continues to shrink, and sales of traditional laptops have been pressured by rising interest in touchscreen tablets. Computer makers such as Samsung, Dell Inc., DELL +0.18% Hewlett-Packard Corp., and Lenovo Group Ltd. are now producing numerous types of touchscreen devices powered by Microsoft’s Windows 8 operation system.
The devices include touchscreen laptops as well as convertible touch-screen laptops, in which the screen can swivel but can’t be detached from the device. Other detachable touchscreen laptops are basically tablets with keyboard docks in which the processor is located behind the screen.
A quarter of all Windows 8 laptops sold in the U.S. in January had touchscreens, said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at research firm NPD, adding that Chrome must follow suit with touchscreen devices.
“In the long run, to be competitive, most products are going to need touch,” Mr. Baker said, adding that he already views Chrome devices as competing with all other mobile computing devices, including those running Android.
Until now, Google has positioned Chrome devices as being an “additional computer” for people’s homes, one that can be used to access information from their desktop PCs or other laptops, even if they run Microsoft or Apple software.
In the past, some Chromebook customers have been able to purchase wireless access through a U.S. carrier.
Google unveiled its Chrome operating system effort in 2009, after its Chrome Web browser became a strong competitor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The first Chromebooks became widely available in 2011.
Chromebooks are also aimed at the millions of student, corporate and government customers that use Google Apps, the company’s suite of Web software that competes with Microsoft’s Office.