When Google introduces Chrome OS a few years ago, a lot of people wondered why they’d run an operating system based around a browser. Now a lot of people seem to be doing just that.

Bloomberg spoke to researchers at NPD, IDC, and Gartner, and reports that analysts say up to a quarter of laptops sold for less than $300 in the past 8 months were Chromebooks, Chrome OS laptops make up around 4 to 5 percent of the notebook market in the US right now, and they’re the fastest-growing segment of the PC industry.

That might not be shocking news to anyone who’s kept an eye on the Chromebook space over the last few years. While the earliest Chromebooks sold for for $430 and up, today you can pick one up for about half that price.

The $249 Samsung Chromebook regularly holds the top spot in Amazon’s list of best-selling laptop computers.

Chromebooks are also now available in more stores and more countries than before, and a growing number of PC makers are offering Chrome OS devices. While Acer and Samsung have been on board since the beginning, you can now buy Chromebooks from Lenovo and HP as well.

A big part of the appeal of these device are the low prices. But you can find plenty of Windows laptops for less than $300. What’s tougher to find is a decent Windows laptop which is portable, gets decent battery life, and performs well.

While not all Chromebooks are super-speedy, they generally boot quickly, get at least 4 hours of battery life, and run most web apps pretty well. They’re also reasonably secure since most “apps” you run aren’t actually saved to your local storage. And since most of your settings and data are stored online, a Chromebook makes a nice secondary computer because you can usually pick up exactly where you left off by opening the Chrome browser on your Windows, Mac, or Linux computer.

Google clearly doesn’t think Chrome OS is only good for cheap laptops. The company’s Chromebook Pixel is a $1299 testimony to the idea that Chrome OS can run on premium hardware. But while the Pixel is one of the nicest laptops I’ve reviewed in years (at least in terms of hardware), right now it seems like the sweet spot for Chrome OS is in laptops that sell for around $300 or less.

What do you think? Is Chrome OS here to stay? Or is its current success a fad that will fade away in time like the netbooks of yesteryear?

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28 replies on “Are Chromebooks finally finding their stride?”

  1. Bought a Samsung XE303 Chromebook and can’t say it impresses me. I wish their was a easier way to install a real Linux OS on it. Chrome OS is a marginal OS and frankly it might as well just be called the Google PC because that’s all your going to be dealing with is Google. I set mine aside hoping someone can develop a easier way to wipe the SSD of Chrome OS and install Linux on a ARM Samsung Chromebook. Far as I am concerned my Chromebook is worthless with Chrome OS. Just look at ebay sometime. Lot’s of people selling Chromebooks especially the Samsung one. For being tops in Amazon sales, a lot of people are falling out of love with them quickly.

    1. Haswell you mean? Bay Trail is an Atom based processor which is slower than the current Celeron processor used on the Acer C7 for example. Bay Trail is fine for Android, or Windows 8 Metro apps, but is slow for Chrome multimedia, games etc., and painfully slow for Windows applications.

      1. No, I’m actually looking forward to Bay Trail. Bay Trail will be released in Q4 of this year so 3rd party benchmarks can be established then. Sure Clover Trail is slower than a Celeron, however Intel is claiming that Bay Trail will be 3X faster than Clover Trail and require 5X less power. (https://ow.ly/mVOu5 ) This should put Bay Trail ahead of the current generation of Celeron chips while providing longer battery life.

        I’m interested in Bay Trail for Chromebooks. I still have a desktop for my Windows applications. There will always be some type of trade off (speed vs battery life vs price). For essentially a browser, I’d be happy with longer battery life and a lower price point over the speed of a Haswell CPU.

        1. So Intel keeps claiming, but when they come out, they have always proved disappointing. Intel also tends to compare with older ARM devices but tends to get beaten by the newer ARM devices that come out by the time the Intel chips are in production – at least that was the case with Clover Trail, and Medfield. Intel’s power consumption claims and speed claims are also exclusive – you can’t have both at the same time. There are also claims that the Bay Trail will be very expensive compared to the equivalent ARM.

          I am looking forward to Haswell (Intel does make decent high performance processors even if they have been unable to match ARM’s power consumption), and a cheaper, less indulgent, midrange version of the Pixel with maybe an intermediate screen resolution – mainly because I can see Chrome local offline apps and games going more CPU and graphics intensive. I can also install Linux as chroot on it and run it with good performance. The Haswell is according to reviews not as huge an increase in battery life and speed as was hyped, particularly when you look at total power consumption of the notebook as a whole, but it should still result in a Chromebook with the same performance as the Pixel but with a couple of hours more battery life.

          1. Power and speed are not mutually exclusive. The key to achieving both is by reducing the CMOS’ process step in nms. Bay Trail will be 22nm while Clover Trail is 32nm. Haswell has improved in both speed and power draw compared to Ivy Bridge. You can achieve both.

            All manufacturers exaggerate their claims some what. We’ll have to wait until the 3rd party reviewers get a hold of the CPUs and issue their own benchmarks. Haswell will beat the performance of a Bay Trail hands down. That’s not the purpose of the Bay Trail chip. I’ll be very surprised if I see a new Core i5 Haswell in a Chromebook for under $300. Bay Trail computers will also benefit from a better GPU.

            For sub-$300, I’m not expecting a Pixel equivalent. I expect to use it as a second computer to take with me and surf. A haswell Pixel would be nice but it will be more expensive than I’d be willing to spend. Google has created the Pixel to target the higher-end of the market. It’ll be interesting to see how successful this strategy will be.

            I’m not married to Intel so when Bay Trail is released, I’ll compare its performance to the available Tegra and Exynos Chromebooks to see which provides best bang for your buck in the sub-$300 category.

  2. MS stopped the GNU/Linux Asus EeePC and from a good device with Xandros Linux they made a bad product with MS WOS killing this market.
    Chrome OS – better if you install Crouton – make this cheap computers work as has a linux kernel – any nix is much faster than NT – and it is enough for 90% of normal users.
    Having enough sells will make them a great competitor. But all over the world it is time for Google to have Google shops with all this cheap products because big stores do not like small margin products and internet sales are not enough for this.
    Google stores would be profitable each one of them only with Android sells but there are a lot more good stuff that google and partners sell.

  3. For $50 more I went with a refurb ASUS Transformer Pad (TFT300T) that included the optional keyboard . 10-15 hour battery, removable keyboard, front&rear camera, GPS etc. ASUS has an update to jellybean plus you can root and flash a custom rom. I’ve used both the original atom and ARM chromebooks which I agree are better for light use than a windows laptop But at this time I find Android offers so much more than chrome OS

    1. Hardware-wise I would also get the Transformer Pad, but I don’t think there is a right OS for that hardware yet, the closest thing would be dual user interface / OS that Ubuntu is promising, but that apparently nobody is interested in working with them. Enter the Chomebooks, not my dreamed hardware, but very close, and if the OS doesn’t cut it for me, I could switch to a linux distro and still have a great machine or could also dual boot. But I’m still clung to my old eee pc 1000!!!!

  4. Web browsing stats show Chromebooks only have 0.023% share. Not exactly disruptive.

    https://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/cloud/381214/chromebooks-grab-only-0-02-market-share

    Now, this does not mean the Bloomberg story is wrong. After all, they say Chromebooks now have 4-5% of the laptop market in the US. Since desktop Chrome OS devices are almost non-existent, and 40% of all PCs sold are desktops, this probably means their share in all US PCs sold is 2-3%.

    But: that’s in the US. Their international rollout has been incredibly slow, especially for a product with global appeal like a PC. (You can buy a Windows from Perú to Cambodia). So perhaps their share of global PC sales is less than 1%.

    Can 1% global share be considered good? Hell no.

    Now, how do you get from 1% to 0,023%? First of all, that browsing share includes all devices (phones, tablets, PCs, and whatever else is out there). But most of that is PC. So let’s say their PC browsing share is 0,03%. That’s still ten miles away from 1% or 0,5% or any relevant number.

    There are two other aspects. First, sales is not installed base. The typical PC is only replaced every seven years (Windows 7 only gained 45% share after 3 years in the market). So if Chromebooks have only picked up in the last year, who knows, maybe their 0,03% becomes 0,2%, or 0,3% in terms of browsing share among devices sold in the last 6-12 months.

    Still a ways off. Not even close to relevance. How do we explain the lack of browsing in devices that can barely do anything other than browse? Well, my guess is that most Chromebooks are bought as secondary computers and/or by non-tech-savvy users. So you buy a Chromebook for your mom, who just wants it to write the occasional email (too hard on her phone). As a result, she barely opens it. Or a tech-savvy user buys a Chromebook but ends up not using it much because the Windows machine and his phone/tablet take up a lot of time.

    One last thing to say: I trust web browsing stats over IDC and Gartner. A million times. The latter have shown that they are simply terrible. See: Galaxy Tab sales, 2012, 2nd quarter. IDC said Samsung had sold 2.3 million, but court documents showed their US sales were 37.000.

    So, yeah, they just made it up.

    1. The web stats from Net Applications are heavily biased towards towards Microsoft and Apple and have proven to be unreliable for determining anything else in terms of relative market share of Windows versions and iOS and Android versions.

      The problem is that web stats companies do not measure actual web usage, only the usage is a tiny number of sites that send usage data to the particular web usage stats company.

      Net Applications underestimates Android devices relative to iOS devices by a factor of 6. We know the exact numbers of registered Android and iOS devices from subscriptions, and Android devices outnumber iOS devices by a factor of about 2, while Net Applications web stats supposedly show iOS devices outnumbering Android by approximately a factor of three. There have been a number of attempts to explain this (for example by claiming that Android users use their phones as dumb phones rather than for Internet access), but the only explanation that makes any sense is that Net Applications’ data collection has a heavy bias against Google.

      The same is true for Net Applications stats for browser type. Net Applications underestimates Chrome browser usage by a factor of 6 compared with Internet Explorer. Don’t take my word for it. Just look at the relative web use measured by all the web stats companies, and you will see that for Chrome vs IE relative usage all other web stats measure 6 times as high Chrome vs IE relative usage as the odd one out which is Net Applications.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_web_browsers

      I am not sure of the reasons why Net Applications should have such a bias against Google, but there are three possible reasons I can think of:

      1) That Net Applications data submitting websites were selected to measure Windows and iOS usage before Google’s Android and Chrome browser arrived on the market, and Net Applications kept the same set of data submitting websites in order to maintain accurate Windows IE and iOS version trends at the expense of OS and browser market share data when Android and Chrome browser were introduced resulting in a very heavy bias against Google’s products in the OS and browser market share stats.

      2) That Net Applications use of submitted data from its submitting websites falls foul of Google’s terms for submission of data to third parties, resulting in Net Applications not receiving data from Google or Google affiliates (eg. those using Google authentication or Google Drive services), which is where Android, Chromebooks and Chrome browsers will drive its users if Google is successful in what it is trying to do.

      3) That Net Applications is sponsored by Microsoft and/or Apple and the bias can be traced back to that. There is precedent for this in the many “Independent” paid for by Microsoft studies and reports published in the past for Microsoft.

      The sales data on which IDC and Gartner are basing their reports are I believe based on NPD retail data, which has in the past proven to be impartial, accurate, and reliable.

  5. Yes, it is hitting its stride, as are alternate operating systems in general. The new mobile OSes (iOS, Android; before that – blackberry, PalmOS) plus the rapidly growing cross platform infrastructure (cloud based/HTML based/service based, Java, local HTML 5 apps, cross platform frameworks) has made people realize that they really don’t need Windows. And these two trends complement each other – more diversity in ecosystems drives the need for more cross-platform services, applications, and development.

    Though I am issued Windows based machines (laptops) from work, I’ve used Linux on home computers since 2009 and experience fewer and fewer compatibility issues as time goes on. I have a windows based VM but rarely use it.

    I just ordered the Samsung Chromebook as a secondary computer. It should easily fit the bill. I’ll probably install Linux alongside ChromeOS for flexibility but I’m also wanting to evaluate ChromeOS to determine if it could serve as a primary computer for a less-tech-savvy relative at some point (one that uses a computer mainly for web browsing and email). Based on reviews so far, I believe it could.

    Having said all this, I’m still confused on why Google has a dual-OS strategy. Given Microsoft is struggling with their Windows 8 rollout, there would be a good opportunity for a merged ChromeOS/Android hybrid to make inroads on the desktop right now. Though the Mir display server decision by Canonical is unfortunate, I like the Win8/Ubuntu model where one device could be used to serve phone/tablet/desktop roles. Combined with wireless display (miracast) and wireless charging, your phone could dock and instantly become your desktop (and switch to a higher power mode); or your phone could output to a tablet display (which would just be a dumb display – no need for a CPU or memory on board). This vision and convertible laptops similar to the Asus Transformer are the future I think.

    Noone is going to want to license Windows for every single device they use as computing devices proliferate around the home and workplace. This is partly what is driving Microsoft’s Surface strategy – they have to adopt an Apple-like premium device model to make high profit margins because their search service is struggling and they can’t make huge profits on search alone once OS licensing revenue starts declining.

    1. There really is no point merging Chrome OS and Android. Why? Because Chrome OS is essentially Chrome the browser running atop a stripped down Linux UI. Just install or load the Chrome browser on Android, and it’s essentially the same deal.

      To answer your question: why is Google developing two separate OSes? My theory is that because Chrome OS is essentially Chrome the browser, the work that goes into Chrome OS may eventually show up in the browser. Consider the notification cards and app pop-up menu — these two features started out in Chrome OS, and have been brought over to the browser. So Google is not really wasting money when it comes to developing Chrome OS. You could say that Chrome OS is a testing field of sorts for the browser.

      Along this line of thought, I don’t think Google actually cares too much about selling Chromebooks, per se. By that what I mean is that their business here is not about selling as much hardware as possible — it’s about using hardware to leverage Chrome the browser into emerging and institutional markets. And they don’t expect to sell much of the Pixel — it’s just a show-off piece, to demonstrate to the public what Chrome OS is capable of, and to serve as a high-end standard for OEMs to reference when developing their own, lower-priced Chromebooks.

      Overall, this may be bothering Microsoft somewhat — they’re in no danger of losing the desktop/enterprise OS to Google. But Chrome OS can continue to live on indefinitely, since it appears to be devised as an research/experimental project that benefits Chrome the browser down the line, and this could grow into more than a mere annoyance to Microsoft years from now.

      1. Fair comments and I agree on what Google is using Chrome OS for.

        However, the longer that Google allows Microsoft a free pass on MS’s desktop monopoly, the longer Microsoft can leverage that to try to regain strength in mobile and gain strength in search . Microsoft was in a similar situation before when PalmOS and Blackberry dominated mobile (pre-iPhone and Android release) and used their desktop, development tools, and office stengths/tie-ins to regain share with WindowsCE. Given MS currently has a top tier ODM in Nokia and is still struggling in mobile (Win Phone8 going nowhere fast), this scenario seems less likely as time goes on (also assuming Google doesn’t sit back and rest on their laurels).

        If Chrome OS did not exist, Google would probably just be extending Android to desktop form factors. The reason this is important is that, as long as Google pursues their current strategy, it does not seem likely that any Google OS ecosystem will have the full desktop apps (a full office suite, desktop publishing, or graphics design apps like PhotoShop) any time soon. This means that both Microsoft and Apple are left to guaranteed revenue in these markets. However, given the decline of the traditional desktop market for all things computing (and rise of phones and tablets), the traditional desktop is a declining market. But then, why is Chrome OS targeting the low-end of this declining market…? A combined Chrome OS/Android hybrid could potentially target the high-end too (Introducing locally running Android apps designed for the desktop paradigm).

      2. Android is Google’s current generation product for mobile phones and tablets. Chrome (browser, runtime and OS) is Google’s next generation product for taking over the computing world (at least on the client side). ChromeOS have some advantages Android or any other OS can match – Statelessness and Zero Maintenance operation, centralised Zero Touch Administration, transparent redundant remote backup of all user data and configuration, and the ability to jump to and from any device or OS to any other other and have all your data, preferences and applications right there waiting for you.

        ChromeOS is a Microsoft monopoly eliminator and an Apple walled garden wall remover, and I believe if future it will be the dominant app platform along with others using the same HTML5 based web technology, displacing Windows, Android, and iOS. If you look at what Google is doing with packaged Chrome apps and the Chrome browser and Chrome runtime, you can see what Google is doing. They are developing a write once, run on any OS and CPU architecture environment based on open web technologies on which you can write standalone locally installed desktop apps that can do anything Windows apps can do, as well as browser apps that don’t need installation and so can bypass an Apple appstore block. These apps once written can run anywhere and on any device. Being HTML based display wise, they can adapt automatically and intelligently to different display sizes and form factors.

        I am not sure how Android will be integrated with Chrome, but Google will certainly want to keep the ChromeOS advantages stated above, and so I think it will come in the form of first adding a full function Chrome browser with full touch functionality to Android tablets, and later adding a server based Android runtime and offline Android app capability on Chrome OS and Chrome browser, and apps to user’s Google accounts, followed by replacing Android with this new Android capable ChromeOS on tablets, but maybe keeping Android as it is for smartphones and embedded devices.

  6. I always thought people were mostly interested in Chromebooks so they could put a desktop Linux distro on it. Not really Chrome OS. At least that’s what most people I know intended to do when they bought it.

    1. That’s what I did. Chrome OS is good enough for most things but when it’s not it makes me want to pull out my hair. I installed a Linux desktop distro and never looked back.

    2. Most people don’t even know what Linux is. But you might be right about many readers here. I run chrome os and xubuntu on my chromebook. Chrome for browsing, google apps and watching .mp4 videos. Xubuntu for the rest. The only things I miss so far is wired ethernet and VGA out.

    3. sadly they only go as chromeOS sales (and is the only thing those awesome overpaid analysts see), but at least is not more windows and actually an OS with a linux kernel so its compatibility with other distros is very high.

      I hope to see more Linux/ubuntu netbooks. I was only able to find several on Amazon / web.

  7. Android netbooks (such as the Transformer Infinity with keyboard or the forthcoming HP slatebook x2) are clearly a better buy for most users.

    They are actually amazingly similar, but android has always expected to work even when not connected to the cloud. ChromeOS is adding that functionality,
    it wasn’t its starting point.

    I just bought the refurb Samsung Chromebook that Liliputing highlighted the other day for one of the grandkids. But I will probably be waiting for the slatebook for myself.

    What they share in common, is that in neither case did I feel a need to have 4 GB of RAM and Windows. I have also not upgraded my work laptop even though it is now two years old. I read my email faster on my Nexus 7. I don’t need a more powerful Windows machine.

  8. Its the future for most individuals who are not dedicated gamers or hard core power users. You can do business on the chromebook and not worry about viruses or updates. Its simple and cheap..

  9. No sure about Chrome OS, but cloud-based computing is definitely here to stay. Transition will probably be less drastic than what Chrome OS is currently offering though.

    Privacy / surveillance scandals might also slow the process, or even kill it in the short-term. My 2 cents (of euro).

  10. Love the Chromebook – when at the BigBox Retailer Chromebook display I am like a kid playing with the toy train display at the toy store. Nonetheless, I think the Chromebook need be a convertable with a sim card.

  11. Just picked up a refurb ARM Chromebook for $170 thanks to a Liliputing deal of the day this week.

    For me, It was either the Chromebook or a new Android tablet, but frankly I’m put off by frequent reports of malware in the Droid walled garden as well as devices not getting updated with the latest Android O/S. Also, I like having a keyboard (not really into the touchscreen/swiping UX, myself) as well as some decent I/O options, which are going the way of the dodo bird on a lot of tablets. Finally, it’s a bargain compared with decent Android tablets with a similar screen size.

    My uses? Web, checking gmail, Hulu and Fandor when I travel (according to one review, Hulu fares quite well on the $249 Chromebook’s ARM processor – we’ll see about Fandor). I’m also looking forward to getting my vinyl records digitized via Audacity and right now I’d have to bring my clunky Acer tower downstairs to do that. I’m not absolutely positive that Ubuntu on the Chromebook will help me digitize the audio but we’ll find that out pretty quickly.

    Should I want a higher-power desktop that can handle a lot of multitasking, photo editing, remote desktop, what have you, I’ll eventually build my own. For now I think the Chromebook will be a great secondary home computer.

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