Yesterday, commentary "Do Chromebooks matter anymore?" popped up in my social network feeds. Preston Gralla rightly wonders, when looking at how the laptops have fallen off Amazon's top-seller lists, IDC shipment forecasts, and what happened with netbooks. While being a Chromebook fan, I must admit to similar misgivings.
So today, I emailed Stephen Baker, NPD's vice president of industry analysis: "Are Chromebooks just the next netbook wave? Low-cost, lean configurations, and education adoption all look similar to me. Do you see any parallels to suggest Chromebook is little more than the next netbook and it's headed for the same destination: Short-term appeal that vanishes? Or is there longevity here, based on sales numbers?" His answer is reason for this post.
Chrome OS is a bit limited, but functional enough for many users. You see, many people do all of their computing on the web nowadays, making a browser-focused Chromebook or Chromebox a smart choice. Unfortunately, Chome OS has also become synonymous with low cost and low specs. This is partly due to the misunderstanding that the operating system is only a browser; it's not. Google's OS is a full Linux distro running a browser, and it needs all the power it can get.
Today, Acer announces a refresh to the Chromebox CXI, which should make people say "finally", with a sigh of relief. Intel Core i3, 8GB of RAM and 4K output -- this is the machine Chrome fans have been waiting for.
Last year, I disputed ridiculous assertions, based on widely misquoted NPD data, that 2014 would be "year of the Chromebook". It wasn't. But that designation does belong to 2015—at least in the United States. Measures: Number of new models; adoption by K-12 schools; and overall sales, which are surprisingly strong. Read carefully the next paragraph.
Through U.S. commercial channels and retail, Chromebooks accounted for 14 percent of laptop sales last year, according to NPD, which released data at my request. That's up from 8 percent in 2013. Commercial channels, largely to educational institutions, accounted for about two-thirds of 2014 Chromebook sold. Year over year, sales soared by 85 percent, and the trajectory continues to climb.
While most everyone is familiar with Chromebooks, the Google operating system also comes on a few desktop computers, a system generally referred to as a Chromebox. Like any computer, a Chromebox requires a keyboard and mouse, but sometimes those using notebook computers also prefer an external mouse instead of using the trackpad. Now Logitech plans to have everyone covered in this growing market.
The hardware maker is announcing a new line of peripherals designed specifically for Chrome OS computers. You're likely thinking that any wireless keyboard or mouse will work, and you'd be mostly right. I type this now from a Chromebook using a standard Microsoft wireless mouse. But what Logitech has is a bit more interesting.
Yesterday afternoon, a San Diego State University student bought my MacBook Pro—13-inch Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD—for $1,100. I purchased the laptop from local dealer DC Computers in late-August 2014 for a few hundred dollars more. The buyer's interest was my own: Mac, large SSD, and extended warranty (expires April 2017).
The proceeds go to buying Toshiba Chromebook 2 (two, another for my wife) and Android phone for her. She moves from iPad Air, which has been, since September 2014, her PC—and that experience should be another story (be patient). If time travel was possible, I would keep, rather than sell, my Chromebook Pixel early last summer. The Chromie lifestyle suits me best, and I am excited to be back to it. However, in December, when reviewing the tech products that changed my digital lifestyle last year, including the switch to Apple's platforms: "I can’t imagine using anything else". I lied to myself, and unintentionally to you.
Not long ago I wrote asking if we still needed Windows. It's an interesting question without a real answer. On the one hand, many folks don't need it, as a Chromebook will suffice for what they do -- checking email and browsing websites. On the other hand, some people do need Windows for the apps that can't be had on Google's platform.
In other words, there is no easy answer to the question I posed. One thing became clear though. Windows won't be going anywhere soon. It may only be needed by a certain percentage of people, many of whom are in a business of some sort, either for themselves or in the enterprise community.
While I keep the list short this year, it wouldn't be U.S. Thanksgiving without my writing about gratitude, and why some tech company's executives, employees, and partners should prostrate and pray "Thanks".
Let's start off with Google, which continues a great run that started with Larry Page's return as CEO in April 2011. If he's not all smiles this Turkey Day, someone should slap that man aside the head. I could tick off a hundred things for which he should give thanks. For brevity's sake, so you can get back to the big game and bigger bird, I select some things that might not come to mind.
Google is trying to grow its budding operating system platform, continually updating and enhancing features. Customers can now work in certain environments offline, for instance. But what lacked was some of the core features of rivals Windows and OS X. However, that slowly changes as well.
Photo editing, for instance, was one feature that, while not absent, certainly wasn't top of the line. Until now you had to rely on an app such as Pixlr, which many Chromebook customers use. But Google today announces that Photoshop is arriving, though not (at least yet) offline.
Google geeks have speculated for nearly a year about Android and Chrome OS coming together as one operating system. Yesterday's announcement -- that some Android apps can now run on the browser-based platform -- seems to foreshadow a combined future. Make no mistake about what this really means. Chrome OS is an ecosystem with no future because there is little monetization of apps. The platform would be dead if not for the existing and smoothly integrated Google cloud ecosystem.
Android apps inject life into the Chrome OS ecosystem. Free apps can't sustain any platform because developers have no incentive to create them. Android opens a huge spigot of apps -- and some which developers can monetize, more than they do through paid services tacked onto free web apps. BTW, Microsoft should take a cue from Google, by bringing boatloads of Windows Phone apps to its PC operating system.
Earlier this summer I wrote about moving to a Chromebook -- I'm working from my porch and I want something easily portable. I stated at the time that I was not sure where things would lead when the weather took a turn for the cooler. In previous years I've used a Windows 8.x (or 7) computer, as my office contains two desktops and a laptop running the Microsoft operating system as well.
Don't get me wrong -- I still see a need for the platform, but I simply don't see it for myself. I write in Word, which has a Chrome app. I edit images, which Pixlr handles quite well. Beyond that, I do little else outside of checking email and scouring the web for news.
VMware, Google and Nvidia are all teaming up in a scheme which will allow high-end graphics intensive applications to be used on a lowly Chromebook.
How will that work? Obviously a Chromebook doesn't have the horsepower to run heavyweight programs such as, say, Photoshop or AutoCAD, but the laptop won't be running it in this case. The software will run in the cloud, on powerful machines in data centers, and be streamed to the notebook.
Google's Chromebook is on the up and up, according to the latest report published by analyst firm Gartner.
This year, Gartner estimates that total Chromebook sales will hit 5.2 million, which is up 79 percent from 2013. Looking further out to 2017, the number of units sold should reach 14.4 million, in other words we're looking at a near tripling of sales inside three years. Which has to be music to Google's ears...
Google is making an ever increasing amount of inroads with the education sector. Chromebooks have been finding new homes in many schools over the past year, with institutions either purchasing the devices for students or requiring them to attend with one.
Google is not above taking advantage of this momentum by using it in new advertising, and is doing exactly that with a new video that seems made for TV.
Google's Chromebooks have been making inroads as of late. Many schools have been adopting the platform, and there have even been stories of businesses moving over after the death of Windows XP. The latest numbers released show that this trend is continuing.
TrendForce reveals that shipments of Chrome OS devices have risen to 1.8 million in the second quarter of 2014, with Acer leading the way, ahead of all other OEMs.
Get ready for another rash of "Year of the Chromebook" stories. It isn't, but tongues will wag. Today, NPD released new data about U.S. commercial computer sales which, like the last set, is sure to be misquoted. Spurred by educational buying, Chromebooks accounted for 40 percent of U.S. commercial channel notebook sales for the three weeks ended June 7. But some nitwits are sure to claim all sales, as they did following December's data drop. Commercial sales are more limited and represent those to businesses, educational institutions, governments, and other organizations.
That's not to diminish Chromebook's success, considering the category is but three years old and supplants OS X and Windows sales in the coveted education market. Users gotten young often stay with a platform for life. The browser-based computers aren't singular entities, either. Android and stand-alone Chrome platforms benefit, too, from halo sales going both ways.