Has Google dropped the ball, and missed the biggest market opportunity since search?

google-logo-wallTechnology disruptions cause huge market opportunities for companies savvy enough to pounce on them.

The latest is the so-called Netbook craze; small, low-priced portable computers that offer just enough power to check email and surf the web. They’ve grabbed headlines all week at CES in Las Vegas. Everyone is in on it: HP, Sony, Lenovo, Asus, among others.

Even Microsoft, big and slow as it is, seems to be aware of the tectonic shifts that are leading consumers to smaller laptops, and is working on a slimmed version of its next generation Windows 7 OS to run on these less powerful machines.

So my question: where is Google?

Google has been the torch-bearing beacon of technology innovation for at least 6 years now. It owns the search market. It owns online advertising. And increasingly, it owns everything related to so-called cloud computing with its Web-based offerings for email, office productivity, and a whole lot more.

Last year Google entered the mobile market showcasing the Android platform with the HTC phone offered by T-Mobile. It received mixed reviews. Unlike Apple, Google has yet to prove it can do anything disruptive beyond its core market of search and advertising. Although significant billion-dollar markets in their own right, investors I suspect continue to wonder when and where the next breakthrough Google discovery will happen.

The netbook is a perfect example of missed opportunity.

win31Here you have Microsoft struggling to slim down it’s monolithic code base built for an era gone by for a new generation of cloud and Web-based consumers. Even getting the beta out successfully this week is challenging for Microsoft who should be the brainiest of the brainiacs when it comes to that kind of thing.

Google? Are you listening? Opportunity knocks!

Instead of a new, splashy Google netbook OS stealing headlines at CES, we have netbooks shipping with Windows XP, and some, now that there is enough horsepower with the netbook-tuned AMD chipset, even shipping with Windows Vista. Still, it feels a bit like 1991.

It’s enough to make you scratch your head.

Netbooks, because of their limited horsepower, rely on the Internet primarily to store data and run applications. Google is already the de facto leader here with Google search, email, and countless free applications that millions of people use. It has already released a mobile operating system, Android, with some success.

Why not tune Android, release it embedded with major manufacturer’s netbooks and seize the opportunity to chomp into Microsoft’s cash cow?

Only Google knows why they are letting this massive market opportunity pass by. Unless, of course, they have some triumphant announcement baking for release sometime later this year.

Color me skeptical, but I’m somewhat weary of the strategic decisions, or lack thereof, being made at my favorite Mountain View-based big nerd ranch.

Explore. Create. Live. Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 9,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Subscribe to 
Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.