As Chromebook sales soar, the debate roars about who it hurts

Posted by Ron Miller on Jan 6, 2014 1:27:00 PM

Samsung ChromebookIt seems Chromebooks were selling like hot cakes in 2013. The cheap, cloud-driven computers were flying off the shelves, but who those sales hurt is subject to debate.

Heck, the numbers themselves are subject to debate. This is the internet, after all.

If you believe the latest figures from NPD Group, Chromebooks had a hell of a year rising from 400,000 total sold in 2012 to 1.76 million in 2013 to take 9.6 percent of the total notebook market, up from a barely distinguishable 0.2 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, Windows notebooks dropped from 42.9 percent to 34.1 percent and Apple dropped from 2.6 percent to 1.8 percent. For the record, many people are skeptical of this data.

But let's assume for the sake of argument that people are gobbling up these low-cost devices in increasingly large numbers. Who are they most likely hurting?

Well, judging from Microsoft's reaction, they see Google coming and they are not sitting still, launching a commercial as part of the "Scroogled" campaign to go after the Chromebook. The ad features actors from the show Pawn Stars explaining their view of the Chromebook. They call it a brick. Clearly, it shows that Microsoft is worried about these devices.

Apple, on the other hand, doesn't seem terribly concerned, at least they haven't publicly reacted to Chromebooks. While some folks are  saying the data shows that Chromebooks are having an impact on MacBook sales, I would argue that people buying $200 computers probably aren't the same ones buying a $2,000 MacBook. For the record, I've bought both, so it's not as though the market is mutually exclusive and people who buy one would never by the other.

That said, I would speculate it's not Chromebooks that are eating into the MacBook sales, it's iPads as people would rather pay around $500 for a new iPad that handles most of their computing needs instead of the cheapest MacBook Air at $999 or the cheapest MacBook Pro at $1199.

Regardless of where you come down on this, Chromebooks appear to be having some impact --and why not. They are low-cost machines that handle many of your basic computing needs with a keyboard and all the software you need for less than $300. I picked up a refurbished model recently for $175 delivered. At that price, it's a cheap commodity device perfect for certain tasks and practically disposable. 

Microsoft is right that Chromebooks are not for folks who do high-end work with spreadsheets or Photoshop, but clearly the tablet revolution has shown that for many people, a complete computer was serious overkill.

Whatever you think of them, the Chromebook is the ultimate cloud device. Its only purpose is to access cloud services, and while it requires a connection to work most of the time, an increasing number of the ChromeOS apps do allow offline access --and it's becoming rare to have trouble finding WiFi.

Most of us rely on cloud services at this point, including ones from Microsoft, so it's hard for them to argue against cloud services while selling them to us. Microsoft can't have it both ways. 

Instead of all the debate though, just buy the machine that suits your needs, and if it's an all cloud, low-cost Chromebook, so be it. It doesn't have to be that complicated.

Photo Credit: vernieman on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 Share Alike license.

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