The State of Chromebooks – Late 2015

Chromebooks. Most assumed they were never going to catch on, as a device whose features were solely tied to the web browser and the internet, seemed quite stupid. The two biggest problems were what happens with a lack of internet connection, and how are all the desktop apps going to be replaced? Having launched in 2011, the question of online alternatives for desktop apps was slowly beginning to be served, with some web apps existing as alternatives. However, these were few and far in between and more often than not users would find themselves frustrated as they were unable to even play certain video files, as the OS didn’t support them and one couldn’t get VLC or some other media player onto the device, or edit a photo with some decent software. Although it was possible at the time to only use a Chromebook as a primary computer, it was very frustrating a lot of the time and for power users it was a complete no-no, as they weren’t the fastest machines, and the lack of desktop apps made them a pain to use.

However, the years have passed, the software has been improved, and there are more choices out there today than there have ever been. Sales have obviously risen steadily, but by how much and what will this mean for the future of Chromebooks and desktop computing?

The most obvious way to see how they’re doing is look at the figures. In 2014, 5.7 million Chromebooks were sold. In 2015, 7.3 million. The predicted figures for 2016 are as near as makes no difference 8 million Chromebooks sold. These figures sound like a lot, but we have to add some context to realise how although this is healthy growth, it’s still not nearly enough to even be close to overthrowing the “traditional” PC market (including desktops, all-in-ones and laptops). This year, the total amount of PC’s sold will be at around 240 million units, making Chromebooks a total of 3% of non handhelds sold, while representing a total of 0.47% market share for desktop and laptop/operating systems, about a third of the entire Linux market.

There are problems with these figures. Market share is based on statistics by statcounter.com, a website analysis tool. It is only installed on 3% of websites, and gets a total of 15 billion views per months, while Google alone receives over 105 billion, getting approximately 25% of all internet traffic every day (in the US). The rest of the data is gathered from Gartner, a market research company specialising in IT research. They don’t publicly disclose how they arrive at their estimates, so there is no way to see what margin of error and how accurate these statements would be.  It seems unlikely that Chromebooks would make up a third of internet traffic of all Linux machines, given the very fast growth that Chromebooks are experiencing compared to Linux, and especially when one considers that the vast majority of Linux systems are installed by the users on machines that were bought running a different OS. However, the key word here is growth and although maybe in a couple of years Chromebooks will surpass Linux machines in terms of webs usage, Linux has had decades of growth, while Chromebooks and Chrome OS less than 5 years (obviously here we are making a distinction between Linux and Chrome OS, as Chrome OS is indeed based on the Linux kernel).

Windows 10 has also made more of an impact than expected. Chromebook growth could’ve potentially hit close to 9 million units sold in 2015, if it wasn’t for the mostly successful release of Windows 10. It already represents a higher market share than OS X (10.18% as opposed to 9.36%), and is closing in quickly on Windows 8.1 (with 8.1 holding a 13.02% share). Windows 10 is also more versatile, being an OS that works better with touchscreens than Chromebooks, meaning it’s a much better choice for hybrid laptops than Chrome OS is.

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Data from statcounter.com, figures in %.

Chromebooks also tend to be cheap devices, with price points not going higher than £250 (with the obvious exception of the Chromebook Pixel), and people like to spend more on a laptop that they are going to use often. If one is to spend hundreds of pounds on their phones, it is a lot more likely they are going to splash out slightly more on a larger device such as a laptop, instead of cheaping out slightly.

There is one final thing which is going to hold back Chromebooks. Over 60% of Chromebook sales come from the education sector, while only between 15-40% in the private sector (that is, normal people like you and me) depending on region. The biggest growth rates came from the education sector, whereas a very low percentage of sales come from the business sector, which makes sense when you consider the inherent nature of the Chromebook.

Region 2014 2015 2016
North America 4,820 6,020 6,177
Latin America 142 178 223
EMEA 620 866 1,276
APAC including Japan 146 225 276
Total 5,728 7,288 7,953

Chromebook sales figures, in thousands. Data from Gartner

Chromebooks will continue to see steady growth rates, however it is likely they will slow down for at least the next few years, considering how Windows 10 is making an impact on the private sector, as well the much too heavy reliance on the education sector by Chromebooks for sales. They will certainly not overtake Windows machines in any way, shape or form in the near future even if they might take the market share away. Windows machines are getting cheaper, making them more attractive, while Chromebooks can’t exactly get cheaper, as they are already at that threshhold price point. It’s going to be a tough uphill struggle for the Chromebook.

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