Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

Summary: Google is using the business and education markets to generate some interest in Chromebooks among consumers.

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Here's a $499 question for consumers: If that's the amount of money in your budget for a new computing device, which route do you take when it comes time to buy?

Option 1: A cheap Windows notebook, using a platform and system that's already familiar to many consumer users. Remember that that familiarity includes the installation of anti-virus software and regular software updates. (I mention this because, in my own circle of friends and family, I have run across countless users who do not manage their software and OS updates  - at all.) And because it's a "cheap" Windows machine, you... well, get what you pay for.

Option 2: An iPad. With $499, you can have the coolest, hippest tablet device on the market today. It's not quite a notebook, of course, and if you're still big on a physical keyboard, you'll need accessories to go with this option.

Option 3: Google's new Chromebook, a Web-only approach that could present a steep learning curve for mainstream users who probably spend a lot of time on the Internet - Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo Mail - but also are very comfortable with on-device programs such as Microsoft Office or iTunes.

At the Google I/O developer's conference in San Francisco this morning, the company announced the upcoming release of Chromebooks from Acer and Samsung, which will become available on June 15. The company highlighted many of the benefits of Chromebooks, including automatic updates, one-click uploads to cloud storage services, all-day batteries and offline access to Google Docs, Gmail and Google Calendar.

But it was interesting, at the tail of the video highlighting the Chromebooks, that Google would note that "We're ready when you are." Clearly, Google is ahead of its time here - and gaining some traction in the consumer space won't be easy, given that many mainstream users are tied to the Windows and Mac ecosystems.

The Chromebook - being described by Google as a "new model of computing" - is using a strategic model to gain traction among consumers. For businesses and schools, Chromebooks are being offered under a subscription model for $28 and $20 per month, respectively. That includes hardware updates, full support and warranties and more.

Earlier today, Larry Dignan and I debated the Chromebook's potential traction in the marketplace and his take was that the model makes sense for schools and businesses, given that it also outsources the financially (and time) draining process of managing all of those machines on a network.

But for consumers? Dignan tells me there's no way that, as a consumer, he would drop $500 on something that's new and untested in the mainstream when he can grab an iPad or cheap Windows machine for the same money. His argument makes sense - but I don't think it holds water for long.

As I mentioned above, a high percentage of the Windows users in my life are not taking the proactive steps to protect their computers the way they should - and so many of them run into problems when they (or their kids) unknowingly install programs that come chuck full of malware. Likewise, a growing number of them are already living primarily on the cloud - popular sites like Facebook and YouTube, as well as storage, file-sharing and backup services like DropBox, SugarSync and others.

With that said, think back on what drove the rise of personal computers in the home. Users became familiar with computers by using them in the workplace and that usage eventually morphed into the home. Today, usage in the workplace is no longer the only driver of mainstream adoption of technology. Kids are a big market - and by tapping both businesses and schools with inexpensive, easy-to-manage models for Chromebooks, Google is positioning itself for adoption in the home, too.

In my own home, my kids have been using one of the early Chromebooks - the CR-48 - and have been writing book reports and research papers using Google Docs. They're familiar with Windows but not really big users. They don't need to be. Photos are shared on Facebook, videos are shared on YouTube and music... well, that's still tied to iTunes - for now.

My point is that, years from now, as teenagers become college students and then move into the workforce, the idea of both working and playing on the cloud is no big deal to them. Take away the need to install updates, transfer data between machines or struggle with the upgrade process and Google is giving them a no-brainer of a decision when it comes to their computing choices.

Personally, if I had $500 to blow on a new computing device today, the choice between Windows or an iPad is easy - the iPad wins for me. But throw Chromebook into the equation and suddenly the choice isn't so simple. As a consumer, I would have to pause and rethink my needs and the offerings of the iPad (or any tablet) vs. a Chromebook.

Just getting people to pause and weigh their options is half the battle. Google may not gain ground in the consumer market overnight, but the wheels are in motion for being a major disruptor in the not-so-distant future.

More Google I/O coverage:

Topics: Google, Hardware, iPad, Laptops, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows

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33 comments
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  • You are more "geek" than usual consumer, so you have to chose Chromebook at

    ... least for the sake of novelty of experience and concept overall.

    However, for regular consumer, richness and polish of iPad platform looks like better choice for now.
    DDERSSS
    • I seriously dislike Apple

      @denisrs

      But I would agree with you. From an objective PoV the iPad is the clear choice. In fact, for most of my customers the iPhone is the clear choice over Android devices. Which really, really sucks to type or say out loud...
      LiquidLearner
      • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

        @LiquidLearner I totally agree.
        hayneiii@...
    • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

      @denisrs <br><br>The iPad is a toy and Chrome is another cut down OS running web-slow, beta version clones of 1990s proprietary software. I really hope Chris is out of education now, to limit the damage.<br><br>Why did the Linux fanbois retreat to academic and educational institutions - because no one else has any need for them. That's the only thing that will drive this downgrading to Chrome.<br><br>Why not think of the students, who need experience with the global OS and modern software rather than some hobbyists' (or advertising company's) wet dream.
      tonymcs@...
      • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

        @tonymcs@...
        The iPad serves a multitude of functions that take it far outside the definition of a "toy" - but even if it is a toy to some, it's a lot of fun to use and aren't toys as a consumer item a very successful business (boats, off-road vehicles, and other such items are arguably toys as well). Aren't all computer game consoles and the software that runs on them also toys? $499 is a reasonable price to pay for a toy with such a solid, fluid GUI, particularly since it can be customized with nearly 100,000 apps. These apps can make it a tutor (cooking, yoga, sky observing), a superb RSS reader and color ebook device, a powerful sketchbook, and yes... a game console too. No wonder Apple can't make enough to satisfy demand.
        davidlfoster
      • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

        @tonymcs@... I agree, ChromeOS has nothing. Nobody wants an OS that is a browser only, you cant even do anything with it. Today most any large linux distro can do almost anything that windows can do minus play games, and it still has almost no consumer adoption. So what makes Google think that people will adopt their POS browser OS?
        Jimster480
      • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

        @tonymcs@...

        The picture that you are missing, that most of you are missing, is that the Chrome is targeted to all those who who browse the web, do email, and process basic documents and spreadsheets. Which is probably well over 90% of all PC users.

        What do businesses and school systems do when they buy those expensive PC you claim are so fabulous??? They have a systems admin team (And I know...I am one) set up group policies and lock them all down to only the functions that a Chromebook will run! When you add in all the expenses of support for admin teams to set up policies, testing, etc...the chromebook comes out ahead in TCO. This is where the Chromebook will shine.

        As for those special cases, gamers, and power users, then a full blown PC whether it is Linux, Apple, or Windows, is appropriate.

        Your are such a Microsoft shill, you refuse to open that narrow mind of yours and look at the bigger world out there...How sad for you.
        linux for me
  • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

    I don't get this push at all, Chrome OS to me is worthless outside of Business and even then it is limited.

    Android is Google's real future.
    slickjim
    • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

      @Peter Perry
      exactly. Google is giving mixed signals here. They could have taken Android to the next level and made these books running on real os not on web.
      Ram U
  • This is a niche that will move

    to a different niche, but a niche just the same.<br><br>Laptops are being replaced by tablets, still self contained and free of needing a third party to work, no matter MS, Apple, or Linux.<br><br>This is Google's version of an OS, but it doesn't mean it's what they prefered, or even desired, its all they had to lock consumers to their cloud, as Linux is something they can't control.

    This is.
    John Zern
    • Yeah, for now its for geeks

      @John Zern I am laughing at the thought that business users will switch. At least with iFad you get pretty nice exchange compatibility which is nice if you travel a lot. Otherwise, laptops are a much better value.

      Good Luck Google, you're gonna need it.
      otaddy
  • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

    Call me when you can get handbreak and bittorrent on these platforms!! What made the PC important was the "personal" in PC. Chrome OS, IOS etc. are managed experiences!
    jatbains
  • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

    From the write up:

    "Google?s new Chromebook, a Web-only approach that could present a steep learning curve..."

    Yes, indeed. Can we all just take a deep breath and think back, back to about a year and 4 months ago. Now, clear your mind and try to remember what customer support was like after the initial release of the Nexus One. Here's a link to help you remember:

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=nexus+one+customer+service&sa=N&tbs=nws:1,cd_min:2011,cd_max:2011,cdr:1#q=nexus+one+customer+service&hl=en&biw=1228&bih=999&tbs=cdr:1,cd_min:2010,cd_max:2010&tbm=nws&source=lnt&sa=X&ei=PPnKTYy3F4qosAObmeSHAw&ved=0CBIQpwUoBQ&fp=1ff6bf5e551ce1b2

    Now, what makes anyone think support for a Chrome notebook from Google will be any different? Especially with that "steep learning curve..."
    Delvardo
    • Learning curve?

      @Delvardo
      What steep learning curve?

      The learning curve shouldn't be much more then the learning curve involved in changing browsers. Android was something new - the web/web browser are not.
      Trufagus
      • Doesn't change the fact

        @Trufagus

        That Google has about the worst customer support record out there. Remember, search doesn't require support and that is still their only successful business venture.
        LiquidLearner
  • Message has been deleted.

    LoverockDavidson
    • RE: Over time, Chromebooks can take consumer love (and money) away from Windows, iPad

      @LoverockDavidson

      Gotta agree with you on this one. Another point is that if you are out of range of WiFi or your cell service then this, as I understand it, is a brick. I like to go to places where it is really really dark to do astronomy. No cell service, no wifi. This is where the whole cloud system falls apart.
      boomchuck1
  • For $499

    with $499, I would buy an iPad
    browser.
  • If a cheap Windows laptop and Chromebook cost the same...

    Why would I buy a product that does less for the same price?

    Everything I can do on a Chromebook I can do by simply installing Chrome on Windows. Then, I can still do just about anything else I want to!

    Or, I could use Linux on the laptop, and get the same security they are talking about with the whole "no viruses" line they threw out there. ChromeOS is just a dumbed down version of Ubuntu forced to only run one application anyways.
    vel0city
  • Needs to be a bit cheaper.

    IMO the first generation of Chromebooks is way too expensive. Lower the price to $200 and I would recommend it.
    jfrederickson