Chrome: Just Another Free Google Product

The announcement from Google (GOOG) yesterday that it has released a beta version of a new web browser called Chrome has gotten a lot of attention, but shareholders like myself aren’t overly enthused. Once again it appears that Google is more about coming out with new free products than it is about its earnings or share price. I have no doubt that Chrome is a solid piece of software, but it also is yet another product from which Google will make no money.

Bullish analysts will likely point out that any product that gets in front of user eyeballs is a good thing and can only help them gain more market share. That may be true, but Google already dominates the search market. I find it hard to believe that the people who will download and use Chrome aren’t already users.

In my view, a service offering such as free wi-fi supported by Google advertising would be a far better use of the company’s product design efforts. It would be far more likely to add incremental revenue than a browser would (by expanding the wireless user base). Google’s strategy of making an operating system irrelevant is a bold plan, but it likely won’t boost Google’s earnings, and therefore, its share price.

Now, I do own Google shares. When I reduced my original position a while ago, my argument was simply that Google was a one-trick pony, and although it was a strong pony, new products that actually generate revenue would be the key for Google to attain a second spurt of growth. So far, we have seen little in the way of progress on that front.

I own the stock because it is cheap (19.4 times 2009 earnings estimates), not because they are boosting their long term earnings potential with any of these free new products. For the stock to really make a huge move back to the old highs this decade, Google needs to find another way to make money other than from search advertising. I’m not convinced Chrome helps on that front.

Full Disclosure: Long shares of Google at the time of writing