Are Chromebooks in trouble?

April 17, 2013
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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.

Chromebook

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.

Perception

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.

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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.

Education

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.

Enterprise

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.

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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.

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Conclusion

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.

 

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