Chromebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

Chromebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

Summary: Chromebooks might not excite the savvy Windows, Mac or iPad-wielding techno-literati, but an entire generation of older users may flock to them for user-friendly web access.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Google
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Chromebooks might not excite the savvy Windows, Mac or iPad-wielding techno-literati, but an entire generation of older users may flock to them for user-friendly web access.

When the first Chromebooks were announced with inital pricing and data plans, I wasn't very impressed. In fact, I thought that to buy one at the current prices, you had to be flat out crazy.

I mean $350-$430 for a device that simply browses the web? Are they meshugge? What is Google and its OEM partners smoking, exactly?

This is not to say that I think that Chrome OS has no technical merit nor its proper use case. In fact, I've been involved with Google's Chrome OS Cr-48 notebook beta for quite a while now.

I spent an entire Christmas vacation using one as my exclusive computing device, after which I returned it to Google. For my efforts, Google finally sent me one to use on my own.

What did I do with that device? Well, after playing with it for a few days, I decided to give it to my In-laws, Sandy and Bob.

Now, as many of you know who have read this column in the past, my in-laws have been a constant source of article inspiration. When it comes to blowing up Windows boxes, or encountering some kind of bizarre end-user snag that a IT pro wouldn't normally encounter in a managed enterprise environment, my in-laws will definitely get hit with it.

My in-laws are pure New Media tech punditry gold.

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Some of this stuff which I've written about is typical user carelessness or due to a basic lack of understanding of the platform they use. And that's to be expected, because my 70+ year-old in-laws are not technologists. They're end-users.

So I dropped the Google Cr-48 off at my In-laws a few months ago, with the intention that the primary user would be Bob, who has become more homebound as of late. As most of his computing activity was centered around browsing and email, I thought he would be the perfect candidate for the device.

I didn't hear back from my in-laws for a few months regarding the prototype Chromebook. I figured they had lost interest in it.

Well as it turns out, my mother-in-law, Sandy, has taken to it like a fish to water. She loves the thing. In fact she likes it so much that she's pretty much stopped using her Windows 7 notebook, a Lenovo ThinkPad T61 which lives upstairs in her home office with the wireless printer.

During our Father's Day weekend barbecue at their house, I asked Sandy why she was using it more than her ThinkPad.

"Well, I like to be down here near the bedroom, kitchen and living room, and it's lighter and easier to move around than the other laptop. And it's very easy to use."

"Do you use it for everything?"

"Just about. I access my real estate agency's Multiple Listing Service and stuff with it. The only thing I can't do is print."

"I can make it print, as long as your laptop upstairs is turned on, so it acts as a Cloud Print server."

"Really? 'Cause that would be great, then I'd only have to go upstairs when something gets printed."

"Yeah. I can do that. Is there anything else that it doesn't do?"

"I'd like it to have a word processing program so I can type things out."

So what did I do? I logged onto the Chrome Web Store, installed a Google Docs icon on the device, and showed her how to use it. Problem solved.

"So is Google actually selling these things now?"

"Yeah, but they're selling them for about $350-$400."

"That's too much money. I'd pay $250 for one of these."

And there lies Google's problem. They've got a great OS and device that would be ideal for neophytes and basic end-users, but the darn things cost too much money. Especially for seniors on fixed incomes.

What can Google do to resolve the situation? Well, if a big potential seed market for Chrome OS is seniors, then I would partner with a large company such as AARP which could leverage its purchasing power to get them out cheaper to their target audience.

An organization that powerful could take the COSTCO approach and even contract brand their own device or a special model, such as a Wi-Fi only version with a larger screen. Or even a $99 "ChromeTerm" that any senior with a large screen TV and a wireless keyboard/touchpad combo could use from their couch.

Perhaps even leverage the "Special Offers" ad-supported demographically-targeted business model that Amazon is taking with their reduced-price Kindle, in order to keep the costs down.

True, many seniors might not be able to get access to broadband. But there are plenty of ones like Sandy and Bob who can. And I'm betting that if Google can keep costs down on the hardware, they'll see Senior adoption of Chrome OS like they take to knitting, Metamucil and Cialis.

Could Google's Chrome OS take off with Seniors for the right price? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobility, Google

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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76 comments
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  • Supply and Demand

    Based on the sheer number of SKUs that keeps on growing by the day, there will be continued price pressure and that will eventually result in a price drop across many products coming into the fall.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate
    • I've been hearing that exact same thing about Android Tablets

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate

      and it hasn't happened. Why would this become different, given that the interest in this is far, far less then in the tablet area?
      Will Pharaoh
      • Have you seen the price of Netbooks?

        @Will Pharaoh

        As low as $100
        Tablets made in India--$25.

        Supply and Demand will prevail.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate
      • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

        @Dietrich T. Schmitz - "Supply and demand" only works when demand can afford it. Keep whittling down wages and time and there will be no demand left. ;)
        HypnoToad72
    • $OOM

      I think you're right about the Fall price drop, but I think it will be a one-time thing... the clearing of three hundred tons of unsold Android tablets for so-much-a-pound.

      Once those are gone, it'll be a while before we see prices like that again.

      BTW, you don't really believe that $35 Indian tablet, do you? Do you know <i>anything</i> about manufacturing or what things cost? The fishiest of the Chinese knockoff artists struggle to break $200 with resistive screens... you think the Indians can beat that by 6X? That's nuts.
      Robert Hahn
      • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

        @Robert Hahn
        You can get many android 2.2 running 7 inch or 10.1 china made tablets for under $100. I get like 8 models for the $65-90 range. They run ok but not like the bnig name ones but for any tablet going above $299 jusdt makes them a non buy. the ipad at its price is pointless but people who don't have to worry about money dont care about usability they like what Steve tells them to buy even if its limited, over priced and ugly.
        Fletchguy
  • Again, it is the price

    ChromeBooks are a problem looking for a solution to fix with it. This is the netbook fad all over again. Although it will bring down the price of commodity notebooks, the clear winner will be Asian manufacturers and Microsoft, not Google.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

      <ul><i>the clear winner will be Asian manufacturers and Microsoft</i></ul><p>It's amazing how many people still think the money in these devices is in manufacturing the hardware. It isn't, and it hasn't been for thirty years. Just as they did with VCRs and DVD players, the "Asian manufacturers" will race to the bottom as they seek to asymptotically approach breakeven. Meanwhile, just as happened with VCRs and DVD players, Hollywood will make all the money by selling content.

      The devices aren't what the consumer is buying. Consumers are buying games, and movies, and songs. The devices are just the means to an end, one that ultimately generates almost no profit.
      Robert Hahn
      • Wrong logic for Chromebook ...

        @Robert Hahn Chromebook is the WORST platform you can think for games, movies and songs.

        Chromebook is not good for anything but simple web based applications. It is by no means a product for gaming, watching movies or listening to music.
        wackoae
    • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

      @facebook@... I spent 12 hours setting up a Windows laptop yesterday, and I was amazed at how much faster my "fad" netbook is at almost everything, thanks to Linux and a SSD. I don't see netbooks as a fad at all -- they fill a niche that is important to someone who wants an inexpensive, lightweight travel computer with long battery life. Even a Chromebook is a little on the large side for my tastes, although I do appreciate the 12" screen.

      @wackoe... I haven't wasted time on gaming in years, and I don't watch movies on computers, but I do listen to music, and I can assure you that Google Music runs just fine on even a very low-end computer. I uploaded my entire music library to Google Music about 10 days ago, and it works like a charm -- better than Amazon's music service, and at least as good as iTunes.
      S_Deemer
      • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

        @S_Deemer

        I put Win7 on netbooks and got much better performance than XP had. Were you comparing XP with a 4500 RPM drive to a current verions of Linux with an SSD? I have a dual boot of Ubuntu Netbook and Win 7 32 Ultimate on a 3GHZ P4. Start up and shut down are within a second of each other.
        mswift1
  • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

    Your in-laws may be the exception. They love it. The rest of the AARP generation probably couldn't be bothered with it. Its one more bill for them to pay.
    LoverockDavidson
    • Another dollar

      I hate to say this, but I think you're right. We've looked into providing SWMBO's parents with an iPad. But they don't have WiFi where they live, and a broadband account is beyond their means. They have a second-hand laptop and dial-up AOL. They will not spend more for "Internet."
      Robert Hahn
    • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

      @LoverockDavidson This story is from a UK study -- I'll bet the percentage is higher in the USA: http://mashable.com/2011/06/22/grandparents-social-networking/
      S_Deemer
    • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

      @LoverockDavidson
      Agreed! Plus many of us seniors do not belong to AARP; insurance salesman burn-out!
      eargasm
    • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

      @LoverockDavidson :
      Exactly - I wanted one for my sister so she could see pics of her grandchilren. The problem is not the device. It is the extra support for Wi-Fi (she and her husband are totally non tech savvy), or cost of buying 3G. Better to purchase Internet TV hybrids once they become standard items.
      roland.diehl
  • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

    Does the author know anything about Baby Boomers? they last thing they want is anything to make them part of the AARP crowd, so no they won't go to LameBoooks (chromebook) they will go for Apple's iPad.
    Hasam1991
    • And you say

      @Hasam1991
      this based on what exactly? Since you question the authors credentials on boomers what exactly are yours that you can make such a declaration as though its fact? You were able to type it out?
      sportmac
      • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

        @sportmac

        Chromebooks are awful they have been reviewed by CNET and Maximum PC and countless other sites, Old folks will be sticking with windows or Macs
        tazmanrising
    • RE: Chomebooks: The choice of the AARP generation?

      @Hasam1991 <br><br>Nope. Babyboomer here. <br><br>Win 7 is really the only suggestion. Stop pretending people lose their mind when they get past 50 so they'll pay hard earned money on a brick to carry around. Any netbook/laptop with Win 7 is a cheap and powerful solution. If you just want the limitations of Chrome, then set Win 7 to start IE automatically and put Windows Live on the first tab. At least that way you get to use modern software with a modern UI, instead of Google's perpetual betas that look like they're from the early 90s (as is their OS).<br><br>One of the benefits of age is not caring about what other people think <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/wink.gif" alt="wink"> No need for status symbols and status tech like Apple.
      tonymcs1