For a few years, so-called “netbooks”—small, light, inexpensive mini-laptops—were wildly popular despite leaving out optical drives, having minimal RAM, and reducing the number, size, and type of connections (except WiFi, of course). Some overeager early adopters thought they could replace laptop rentals for their field sales personnel and conference teams with netbooks, and quickly discovered the limitations.
Today’s netbook is a Chromebook, an entirely different animal. Google’s Chrome OS lets manufacturers build reasonably priced, hard-drive-free, cloud-centric, small-form laptops with decent screens and enough “oomph” to get work done. Chromebooks are no competition for our MacBook Pro rental, but they aren’t supposed to be. Still, only someone with modest computing demands—web, social media, email, basic office work—would make a Chromebook her primary computer.
Google’s success is no joke
As global PC sales continue their downward trajectory, media outlets are reporting Chromebook sales increases. The major stories indicate neither how much, nor who in the product chain is making any money. When trying to confirm technology rumors, you pore over shipping reports of touchscreen panel makers and other component subcontractors; in the absence of hard figures about sales and shipments, you make inferences from market share estimates and price tiers. The picture that emerges from them lately shows a company that has had its blunders, certainly, but which has steadily advanced toward its ultimate goal: Subjugation of the universe!
In all seriousness, Google is creating wildly popular products and services that are changing the world. And how’s this for change: Gartner notes that worldwide PC sales dropped nearly another 11 percent in the second quarter of 2013, while NPD Group notes that Chromebooks grew to a new high and account for 20-25 percent of all units under $300. Of course, we cannot put that in perspective until we know (1) accurate sales figures and (2) margins. However, Google wants people to know that Apple is not the only tech firm that can create new PC paradigms, and that Google and its growing group of A-list manufacturers—Samsung, HP, Acer, Lenovo—have birthed a healthy niche in a dwindling market.
On the other hand…
Remember, it was Windows 8—which is either flailing about wildly or really stirring it up, depending on your choice of pundit—that was going to “save the PC industry.” Instead we have a continuing slide and another 11 percent drop in sales, while Google’s Chrome OS gets packaged by some of the same respected manufacturers in the CRE computer rental inventory, then grabs about a quarter of the sub-$300 U.S. PC business.
Estimates on numbers of Chromebook units that have been shipped, sold, or put to use are varied. NetMarketShare data from April 2013, however, showed total web traffic from Chromebooks at approximately 1/50th of 1 percent. ZDNet estimated earlier in 2013 that Windows RT had earned a larger share than that after being on the market a mere three months (Chromebooks began shipping in 2011). So, will Chromebooks succeed? There are good signs, like wide acceptance in the education market, and support from Google Apps resellers and CSBs (cloud services brokerages). If more big-name manufacturers sign on to make Chromebooks, that’s another giant step for Google—but it doesn’t mean you have to buy one, or help them take over the universe. Just don’t bet against ’em.
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