Are Chromebooks in trouble?

by: Nate SwannerApril 17, 2013

Chromebook Pixel Hinge AA

Reports have come out recently stating Chromebook usage statistics are minuscule. Citing a company called Net Applications, which compiled data about web usage and operating systems, the results were a bit surprising. These reports about Chromebook usage persist, so the question now is whether or not they’re accurate, especially considering the current state of technology. More to the point, if those numbers, which report that Chrome OS comprises just 2/100 of 1% of web traffic, are correct… what is going on in Chromebook land?!

Raw Data

To be accurate, we should keep in mind that these numbers, which note desktop web browsing statistics, are concentrated to the operating system. While Chrome OS has a bit of an issue, the Chrome browser definitely does not. These numbers are also very finite, and the product of one company, not a consensus.

These numbers suggest that Internet Explorer, as of March 2013, controls about 55% of the market. Firefox is second with about 22%, and Chrome is in third with 16%. This flies in the face of all other info that Chrome is easily the most popular browser, and definitely not third to Firefox. In examining overall browser statistics, Chrome is far and away the most popular.


Is this a problem?

While alarming, these numbers aren’t troubling. To get a grasp on what it means, brevity should be exercised. To simply damn Chrome OS as a failure based on one study is irresponsible. Chrome OS also isn’t the driving force behind Chrome initiatives, and Chrome may not really be a comparable to other OS’s right now. The Chrome browser is the real champion here, as it spans across all platforms, slave to no operating system master.

Market Saturation

If you go into an electronics store, you’ll be inundated with Windows 8 computers. Any electronics store you go to will be dominated by those machines, so in simply comparing operating systems versus web activity, this can be a bit of the problem.

Apple has a good presence in the retail landscape as well. They have their stores, which do quite well for them, but even outside of that scope… they do very well. Their presence outside of their company stores is unique, and carries them into another realm of popularity.

If we use Best Buy as an example, we have a very visceral understanding of this issue. In any Best Buy store that has Windows machines, Apple devices, and Chromebooks… the store presence of those platforms tells a good story. The computer department is dominated with Windows machines. Apple has a very nice kiosk, but it often not central to the shopping experience. Chromebooks have a small end cap, which is usually further away that Apple products, on the prefiere of the department. It seems the desktop operating system world still revolves around Windows 8, at least in the retail environment.

Secondary machines

Many of us have Chromebooks as a secondary device, as our use-case scenarios may not lend themselves to using a Chromebook as a standalone computer right now. When multiple devices are owned, the secondary one will be used less, which means it could skew the numbers of a study like the one by Net Applications. In that respect, usage may not be representative of popularity.


Chromebooks may have a problem with perception at times. Some consider them “internet machines” meant simply for browsing the web, useful for little more than checking email while watching TV. As stated in previous articles, that simply isn’t true. Depending on what your needs are, a Chromebook can be a great substitute for a Windows or Apple device, and is much more useful than to simply carry out rudimentary web functions.


It’s new

The Chrome team at Google knows their OS isn’t quite ready for prime-time. That’s not a slight, either. Chrome OS is a forward-thinking concept, and quite a bit ahead of its time. In looking at the marketing videos, they understand the device is currently more fun than anything else for most of us. This harkens back to the use-case scenario point made earlier.

Chrome OS is still pretty new in the grand scheme, having really only been widely available for a year or so. New devices are becoming available every day, from a plethora of manufacturers, so popularity will only continue to grow. The Chrome team is very keen to build a great product, and not rush anything to market for the sake of answering a few loud voices in the crowd.

Changing tides

The world of technology is shifting like sands in the desert… always moving, always taking on a new shape and landscape. Chrome OS is at the forefront of that, and is perhaps the only operating system nimble enough to change quickly enough to navigate technology. Traditional operating systems led the way for quite some time, but as we matriculate into a mobile world, where things like apps and cloud storage dominate the landscape, perhaps Chrome is better suited for longevity.


An eye on the future means an eye on the kids. Much like Apple did so many years ago, Google is very keen to get Chromebooks in the hands of kids. Schools are rapidly shifting (about 3,000 and counting) toward utilizing Chromebooks in schools, and why not? They’re lightweight, inexpensive, come with great support from Google, and update constantly. Best of all, services like Drive are free for kids to use, and require little more than an email address. Cloud education for our classrooms. Brilliant.


Kids may be shifting to Chrome, but so are their moms and dads. Many businesses are transforming how they do business, “Going Google” as the case may be. As Google gains in enterprise popularity, so will their statistics in terms of use. Many businesses still mandate their employees use Internet Explorer. It probably has to do with certain apps your company uses, which utilize Active X (a Microsoft thing), and as such require IE.

A shift to Google and Chrome is a shift away from tradition, and while many companies are happy to move into a world where being connected without wires is normal, some are still reticent. Companies may have a lot invested in their current network, or storage solutions. Some simply don’t “trust” cloud-based computers and storage. The connection with Google Drive is often much more reliable than a VPN connection, but it just isn’t the way some IT professionals currently want to work. As perception changes, and education about Chrome OS grows, so will adoption numbers.


Will it change?

If Chrome OS is based on the web, and operate in a browser environment, then we rely on web apps to carry the load. With the advent of the Chromebook Pixel, developers will start to get excited about Chrome, and develop for it. This is key, just as it was many years ago for software developers to get excited about Windows. Microsoft was wise to get their operating system on as many computers as possible, from a variety of manufacturers. As more and more Windows devices became available, the price became competitive, but the quality remained pretty good. Sound familiar?

Web apps simply must get better, and they will. As the world shifts to HTML5, web apps for all platforms will continue to take shape, and we can effectively move away from the software environment we’re in. As developers have a platform to design for, they will… in droves. It’s a symbiance that works well, but is in its infancy where Chrome OS is concerned. We need apps to fall in love with, and developers need an audience to develop those apps for.

The first domino in this chain of progression is early adoption, which is what so many are currently doing. While Chrome OS may not have all the answers yet, it certainly provides a needed and welcome alternative for many.



The reports suggesting Chromebooks fail miserably in regard to web traffic are curious. How can a device, which is largely reliant on a web connection, not have a considerable web usage presence? Does this mean the device isn’t popular, or isn’t used?

Neither. The report accounts for worldwide web traffic, and Chromebooks aren’t available on that scale just yet. If we consider the limited worldwide availability, and other factors discussed here, the argument can be made that Chromebooks are exceeding expectations. Let’s also remember that Android has similar reports dogging it, yet it has a commanding worldwide presence.

If raw numbers are your thing, consider the sales numbers of the Samsung Chromebook on Amazon, and that Dixons (UK) notes Chromebooks consist of over 10% of computer sales in their Curry’s and PC World stores. The number of schools using Chromebooks is growing daily, as well as the number (and impressive list) of businesses who have switched. Chromebooks have recently become available in more countries, and Acer notes that Chromebooks consist of 5-10% of their overall US shipments.

That’s a great start… and precisely where Chrome OS is. The first domino has fallen, and it’s only a matter of time before we site studies like those of Net Applications in good humor.


  • JamesSB

    Sorry But Chrome OS is failing. After 2 years to have only 0.023% market share is rather poor. Windows RT has a higher market share after being on the market in a quarter of the time. Also according to StatCounter, Chrome OS’s true competitor, Windows 8 has gone from 0.35% in Oct 2012 to 4.54% in April 2013. So Windows 8 has just passed iOS and is on its way to passing Mac OS X in a couple months.
    Basically, StatCounter’s figures confirm Net Application’s results.

    • Todd Adams

      No one I have ever talked to can stomach Windows 8.

      • JamesSB

        And yet people are using it.
        “No one I have ever talked to can stomach Windows 8.” is anecdotal at best. Net Applications and StatCounter are real stats.

        • But the huge negative response from Windows users and backlash in terms of users shunning Windows 8 purchases, and real life drop in sales and reports from OEMs about disasterous Windows 8 device sales aren’t anocdotal.

          I believe Net Applications Stat Counter stats do actually represent the number of OS users going to the very limited number of websites that do submit stats to them. However it is also a fact that their numbers seem to have no relationship with the number of devices sold with either Chromebooks (seemingly underestimated by a factor of 10) and Android vs iOS (Android underestimated by a factor of 6). We are not sure of the exact number of sales of Chromebooks, but we know the number of Androids and iOS devices sold and in use, and Net Applications is way off on those.

          One thin is clear from the Android vs iOS stats – the linkage between web stats produced by these companies is not a reliable or accurate indicator of unit device sales. The reason for this I suspect is that Google and Google affiliated sites do not participate in pushing stats for web stat counter companies, which severely biases the stats.

      • terminator

        They can’t stomach windows 8 (me neither), but the fact is, they’d still choose windows 8 over chrome. That doesn’t speak well for chrome.

      • Harley22x

        That’s odd. No one I’ve talked to has any problems with it. I know 2 people who paid for the upgrade.

      • MasterMuffin

        Windows 8 is good and it’s sadly better than Chrome Os for everyday usage

    • Most of those are forced upgrades or purchases which will be downgraded to Windows 7 on traditional PCs/laptops though – people who wanted Windows 7 but were forced to buy Windows 8 instead.

      Windows 8 tablet and hybrid sales are only 1.5 million, and sale rate is declining. Based on Digitimes sales figures of 200,000 per month for the C7, the corresponding sales for Chromebooks is about 2.8 million (4 million in the last 2 years). However Windows tablets and hybrids have been heavily marketed and widely sold worldwide, whereas Chromebooks have been sold at only a limited number of retail outlets and only in the US and UK with little or no advertising. There is a real demand for Chromebooks which is lacking for Windows 8.

      The stats you are quoting for Windows 8 passing iOS is also rather peculiar, and is another clear indication that whatever they claim to count, Net Applications stats are way off for predicting device sales.

      Q1 2013 percentage of total laptop, tablet, smartphone sales:

      Android = 59.5%

      iOS+OSX = 19.3%

      Windows (all versions) + Windows Phone = 18.1%

  • I can’t comment on the statistics, but I’ve always wondered why anyone would want to use a laptop where you can’t even run applications. Business users probably account for the majority. I hope laptops that require you to have an Internet connection just to use never catch on.

    • Tarthurffe

      I have a simple answer : I need nothing else than what’s on my chromebook. Gmail, Gdrive for note-taking, which is also compatible with lots of apps for special need (in my case, picture editing with Pixlr), Gmusic, Gbooks, Picasa, G+… So I can both write, poste, navigate on the web, listen to music, synchronize with Android phone any data (music, pictures, books, writing…), and that is ALL I need a computer to do, and I think that’s what most of the people need… What the hell with a powerfull big computer to calculate lots of datas if you’re not working engineering or business? Google proposes everything that’s needed on the Chromebook for dailylife users, and the simplicity of the OS makes it sooooooo fast and without fucking Windows pbm poping up to say “xjnfzijnfozej44455 error, etc…” and you can’t fix it cause you’re no IT…! And this, for 280€ with the new samsung ARM ? It is probably less performant than Apple for now, but it does quite the most of what’s needed, and above all : like most on the people on earth, I never had the means to buy one, so I think this solves the question for 3/4 of humanity…

      • terminator

        3/4 of humanity don’t have internet every single o
        Place they go. And the 1/4 that do are screwed if they try using Chrome on the go and experience an internet glitch in the middle of something that ordinarily wouldn’t need Internet on Windows

        • And 3/4, mostly the same 3/4, don’t have a computer either.

          • terminator

            Out of the 3/4,least another 3/4 have computers without Internet. Imagine being on the road, on the go, working on your chromebook and you enter a dead zone, where the Internet service just goes off and you lose your work or are unable to continue

          • You haven’t used a Chromebook have you? With Windows, you can lose data, but you will never lose more than 3 seconds work on a Chromebook whatever happens. If you have an online app like Google Docs online, it sends up your keystrokes every 3 seconds or so, so if you lose your connection and your app stops working, if your hard drive crashes or application locks up, or if you have your laptop snatched by a thief or run over by a steamroller while you are typing, you will at worst lose 3 seconds of your work. If you install the offline version, it will sync to the cloud as usual every 3 seconds, but if connectivity is dropped, it will cache the edits locally and you simply carry on working, and the app will seamlessly sync with the cloud as soon as connectivity is restored – which is better than Windows. In the case of the app crashing, theft etc. again, that is always safer than Windows, where you lose anything you didn’t save, whereas Google Docs saves as you edit. Plus with Windows you are at significant risk of data loss even in a zone with perfect connectivity due to the app crashing or locking up, which is far more likely than loss of work due to connectivity.

            I know that is the way I personally have lost most of the work I have lost is from locked up or crashing apps, followed by losing work by accidentally overwriting or deleting the wrong files in the process of backing up files or moving files to the desktop from cloud or other backup directories.

          • terminator

            I have used a chromebook, and I returned it after a month. I’m talking from personal experience.

          • Let me see. I am typing a document right now in Google Docs, “saving…” appears briefly above the document and it saves whatever I type to the cloud in under 3 seconds. Let me check an Internet failure – I pull the ethernet cable from my cable modem to my WiFi router, and when I type it says “saving offline…”
            I plug the ethernet cable back into the router to simulate a flaky Internet connection that just resumed, and it saves the changes up to the cloud. I keep typing and it goes back to reporting “saving…” and saves up to the cloud in under 3 seconds. All this is done transparently without the user having to do anything. What is more, when Google Doc documents are saved to the Google cloud, they are redundantly backed up to different geographical locales, so that more than three seconds of your work won’t be lost in the event of hard drive failure, app crash, power down while you are typing, theft or destruction of your computer, fire, earthquake, flood etc.

            I am talking from several years of experience of Chromebooks for a year or so, and several years of experience of Google Docs and Windows/MS Office ans other Windows apps at work. I have lost work many times on Windows and Windows apps in that time for various reasons – app crashes and lock ups, power failure, accidentally overwriting the wrong file when backing up, occasional hardware failure, and on many occasions just sheer stupidity in forgetting to save or backup a file. In all that time, I have never ever lost more than 3 seconds of work on Google apps or Chromebooks – as I said, that is something that happens on Windows apps.

          • terminator

            You don’t have to agree with me, nor I with you. you’ve had your experiences and I’ve had mine. Chromebooks have worked for u but not me. Simple. I have LOST work on Chrome more than Windows. You have not. We work differently.
            This is just the same way some have had good/bad experiences with and love/hate iOS, some Android, some BB, WP8, etc.

      • Do any of these submit stats to Net Applications though?

        Gmail, Gdrive for note-taking, which is also compatible with lots of apps for special need (in my case, picture editing with Pixlr), Gmusic, Gbooks, Picasa, G+, Google search, ….

        If not, and Net Applications gets stats from only Hotmail, Yahoo, Dropbox, Mail, Bing, Facebook, Office 365 etc. then that would very neatly explain why Net Applications thinks nobody is using Chromebooks.

        The above applications are the most common use for the Internet, and Chromebooks tend to direct its users to Google or Google affiliated web sites from the point of view of convenience.

  • Todd Adams

    Total Fabrication. If this data were true then the most popular notebook sold at would not be the Samsung Chromebook.

    You know Amazon sells 100s of thousands of laptops and if the Chromebook is CONSISTENTLY the #1 seller, it has to be doing better than this survey represents.

    • JamesSB

      So people are buying them, but not using them.

      • They are not using them on Net Application’s participating websites – same as Android smartphones.

    • But there’s only one Chromebook and thousands of Windows laptops. If the Amazon statistics showed how many laptops sold per operating system, I’m sure Windows and Mac OS would far outrank Chrome.

      • All we know for a fact are the following:

        Acer sales of the C7 Chromebook are 200,000 per month in US, and Samsumg Chrombook series 3 are much higher than this. Currys PC World (UK’s largest PC retailer) said that 10% of its total computer sales in UK are Chromebooks (that is despite only a few of its stores stocking it). Besides Samsung and Acer, the two biggest PC OEMs Lenovo and HP have recently jumped on the Chromebook recently, along with Asus, the pioneer of the netbook. They must know something N et Applications doesn’t.

        Windows device sales are acknowledged by OEMs, retailers, and market analysts to be very poor and 14% down over last year’s. Windows 8 tablets and hybrids sold only 1.5 million in the last 6 months worldwide – less than the approximately 2.8 million+ Chromebooks that would have been sold (in US and UK alone) during the same period if the Acer figures are extrapolated to Samsung.

    • Mr Mop

      What if I told you there were thousands of other places people buy computers from?

      • MasterMuffin

        I’d tell you that you are absolutely right, Amazon may be popular but it doesn’t tell the popularity of stuff, it’s not THAT popular

        • It does give you a good idea of relative popularity though as does Currys PC World’s Chromebooks sales. Imaging what the Chromebook sales would be if they were more widely displayed and advertised. 30% of Windows laptop/PC sales up from 10% now maybe?

    • Net Applications figures are wrong. The list Android as having a little over a third of the web traffic as iPhone, yet we know for a fact from activations that Android device usage is more than twice that of iPhones. There have been various theories trying to explain why Android phone users don’t actually use the Internet, but none are credible. The only rational explanation is that Net Applications figures are biased against Google affiliated websites, and are seriously misrepresenting the web traffic numbers as a result.

      Netcraft’s numbers are taken from participating sites, which exclude Google because Google and Google affiliate ASPs and sites don’t participate in feeding Net Application’s browser stats. Android was intended to feed Google’s services, and those affiliates using Google services, like Google Drive, and Google Authentication. I suspect that Android users are heavily skewed to Gmail, Youtube, Google Maps Google+ etc. as opposed to Hotmail/Yahoo mail, iTunes, and Nokia/Bing Maps, and Facebook. I would expect Chromebook to be even more skewed. If Google has been successful in doing this then web stats like Net Applications is seeing is exactly what you would expect.

      0.02% of worldwide browser devices amounts to 500,000 devices which some are claiming to be the total number of Chromebooks sold to date. This ia impossible, since Digitimes reported that Acer alone as selling C7s at 150,000 to 200,000 a month. Samsumg is selling Series 3 Chromebooks at a much higher rate maybe 2 to 3 times that rate. There are 2000 schools with large deployments of Chromebooks, and they are sold directly through Google, and so don’t come out of the Amazon numbers. Schools haven’t bought C7s either because they came after the 2000 deployments, and the battery life is also too short to be used in schools. Based in Digitimes and retailer statistics, the real number of Chromebooks sold is likely to be closer to 4 million total sold, and around 2.8 million of those sold since last October. This still isn’t a huge number, but given the fact that it was only in sale in US and UK, and only in a handful of retailers in those two countries, and has no advertising campaign, those numbers are very impressive. They certainly beat the 1.5 million for Windows 8 Tablets and hybrids which was achieved selling worldwide with a huge advertising and marketing spend and with massive stocking in every single PC retail outlet.

      What I find particularly impressive is Currys PC World’s (UK’s largest electronics high street retail outlet, which announced that 10% of its computer sales were Chromebooks. This is despite only a small number of its stores actually displaying Chromebooks while Windows 8 PCs, iPads, Android tablets etc. fill every shop.

  • Harley22x

    Chromebooks, having their primary use for web browsing because that’s all they can do, to have a low web usage rate… That’s pretty bad…

  • MasterMuffin

    Why is Chrome 3rd, it’s the fastest web browser (in pretty much all benchmarks and in real life)!?

    • terminator

      It’s good as a browser, not as an os

      • MasterMuffin

        I mean the web browser, why is it third when it’s available on so many platform and it’s by far the fastest one

  • peter steffek

    I think it has been poorly marketed. I think that a chromebook is the best for an old person or someone who does nothing but the lightest computing, I don’t know how they can fix that.

    • Google hasn’t been marketing them at all so far. They have only been selling them in US and UK so far, and they have only priced them realistically since last October. I think that Google has been waiting for Portable Native Client (Chrome’s means of running local machine code applications) to be released – probably it will be out this summer or autumn – before seriously selling it. So far it has only been running web based applications for the most part.

      • peter steffek

        It seems to me like that is what they want it to do. When chromebooks first came out it didn’t even have a file manager. I think they should try to market them for old people, students, or young people who don’t do much else besides web browse.

        • I think they may be waiting for Portable Native Client, QuickOffice, and Chrome runtime on Windows, OSX, Linux, Android and iOS comes onstream. This will provide Chrome native apps on all major platforms on a write once run on every major platform basis. At that point Chromebooks are not longer just a web browser, but can do anything and everything Windows apps can do but with the added ability to be ethereal in the cloud and to run on any platform.

          I think this is going to come in 2013 Q3 or Q4

  • teralgoe

    “The Chrome browser is the real champion here, as it spans across all platforms, slave to no operating system master”
    So, basically OEM’s are screwed up, Google ambitions are tied to the browser, not the operating system, so OEM’s that are betting their hopes to chromebooks to save their a$$es are just working to propagate the chrome browser.
    They will be very happy….