Chromebook looks like another Googleflop

Chromebook looks like another Googleflop

Summary: Google's Chromebook attracted a lot of coverage as journalists with overpowered laptops reported the launch of an underpowered single-function device -- the modern equivalent of a dumb terminal -- that's limited to browsing the web. But after an initial burst of novelty sales, the Chromebook is starting to look like a flop.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Google's Chromebook attracted a lot of coverage as journalists with overpowered laptops reported the launch of an underpowered single-function device -- the modern equivalent of a dumb terminal -- that's limited to browsing the web. But after an initial burst of novelty sales, the Chromebook is starting to look like a flop.

We can see Chromebooks sinking slowly down the Best Seller lists at Amazon.com, but it's impossible to know how well they are selling, because Google hasn't released any numbers. Chromebooks are pitched mainly at large corporations who are generally sympathetic to the idea of dumb terminals, and might even have a few attached to their old-fashioned mainframes, sorry, private clouds. But if these large corporations are adopting Chromebooks, they're not buying them from Amazon, so they're almost impossible to track.

Still, it appears that not all is well on the Chromebook front. According to a report today in Taiwan's Digitimes (Google pushing Chrome OS for PCs; vendors give it the cold shoulder), Google's former boss Eric Schmidt had no success with his Chromebook sales pitch in Taiwan yesterday. Why not? It's "due to demand … being lower than expected."

The story says:

"In June 2011, Acer and Samsung launched their Chromebooks ahead of other PC brand vendors, but by the end of July, Acer had reportedly only sold 5,000 units and Samsung was said to have had even lower sales than Acer, according to sources from the PC industry. However, Acer has declined to comment."

It's hard to believe that Acer's Chromebook sales might be as low as 5,000 units -- around 1,000 per month -- when total PC sales are around a million a day. It looks as though Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet will sell at least 5 million units in the same amount of time.

Digitimes' story adds: "Analyzing Chromebooks' difficult situation, the sources pointed out that although Google is mainly pushing Chromebooks in the enterprise market, its Google Docs applications cannot meet the needs the enterprise users."

It's hard to sell Chromebooks to consumers because they can buy similar netbooks with many more hardware and software features for less money. It might help if they cost half the price of a decent netbook -- $249 in the US -- instead of twice the price, but the Chromebook's price is inflated by the use of Flash memory to provide a fast start. (Amazon.com's current Chromebook prices are $349.00, $429.99 and $499.99, and they're £349 and £399 at Amazon.co.uk.)

As things stand, the Chromebook offers a cut-down netbook for about the price of a real notebook PC. A cut-down netbook that can't run Microsoft Office or Photoshop or iTunes or PC games and isn't much use when you lose your connectivity.

Last month, Google changed its subscription model so that schools and business only have to sign up for one year instead of three, though this also means they pay for their Chromebooks upfront. US schools can now get the Wi-Fi version for $499 or the 3G model for $519, while businesses pay $559 and $639 for the same devices. For the second and third years, schools pay $5 per month and businesses $13 per month for web-based support, administration and insurance. This puts the total cost of a 3G Chromebook at $951, which is almost four times the price of a netbook.

Google has helped Virgin America set up nursery-style Chrome Zones where potential customers can try Chromebooks and get help from "Chrome assistants". Virgin has also been renting out Wi-Fi Chromebooks for use on US flights. On September 30, London got its first Chrome Zone inside the PC World superstore on the Tottenham Court Road.

These efforts show that Google doesn't believe the Chromebook has failed, but if it had succeeded, they wouldn't be necessary.

It may be that sales will take off next year. Or it may be that Chromebooks are like the overhyped but short-lived Smart Books they so much resemble: they're a good idea in theory, but in reality, nobody actually wants to use one.

If it's any consolation, Microsoft didn't enjoy much success when it tried exactly the same idea with its instant-on Web Companions in 1999.

@jackschofield

Hello A Chrome Zone in PC World in London

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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15 comments
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  • Samsung sold at least 5,000 Chromebooks; to Google, to give to Google IO attendees. I'll also note that we took three flights on Virgin America in recent months and didn't see anyone trying out the in-flight Chromebook rental so cute as the adverts were, they didn't stimulate widespread interest...
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • I could but two or three second hand Core 2 Duo laptops for the price of a chrome book, do everything a Chrome book does a lot faster, and have all my music etc to hand if there's no internet. A no brainer really.... We will hear tragic stories of someones Granny buying them a Chrome book as a present when the poor kid will be yearning for an i3 at the very least, type of laptop. All in all a rip off.
    roger andre
  • They were a good idea, but I'm afraid that Google's botched the execution big time. The lack of off-line capability would have been a real deal-breaker for most. It's supposed be coming in a future update; maybe they'd have been better off waiting until that was in place before launch.

    In the consumer market, they're falling between two stools. Windows users will look at them as being limited in functionality, which they are if your criteria is "ability to run Windows programs". (That's Jack's criteria, of course, but he's hardly alone in that regard.) And Linux users, who ought to be these devices' biggest cheerleaders, will be thinking pretty much the same: why would I want a cut-down version of Linux when I can have the real thing?
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • I love my Chromebook (Samsung Series 5 with 3G). I use it for 95% of my personal computing. There is little I cannot do with it. The other 5% of the time I'm on my old Windows laptop, cursing the entire time about the freakin' updates and slow boot time. The Chromebook is getting better and better literally every week (plenty of offline apps available now), and I sure hope Google sticks with and keeps improving it because I think it will eventually take off.
    anonymous
  • One word: GFail.
    Tim Acheson
  • @Gary Lai via Facebook

    > There is little I cannot do with it. The other 5% of the time I'm on my
    > old Windows laptop, cursing the entire time about the freakin' updates
    > and slow boot time.

    There are roughly a zillion things you cannot do with it. The question is whether you actually want to do them or not. Or you can persuade yourself that you really don't want to do them, which is how people usually self-justify their use of minority platforms.

    Someone else might have spent the same £400 (or, actually, less) on a laptop that boots 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium in less than a minute, resumes in about 30 seconds, has zero problems with updates, has far better battery life, a better screen, a better keyboard, and the option of booting into Splashtop Linux (for virus- and update-free cloud computing) in about 10 seconds. Me, for example ;-)
    Jack Schofield
  • @BrownieBoy

    > Windows users will look at them as being limited in functionality, which they
    > are if your criteria is "ability to run Windows programs"

    Holy Toledo, BatBoy, I'm shocked by the revelation that Windows users look for the ability to run Windows programs. Any minute now, you'll be telling me they buy Blu-ray players to play Blu-ray movies, and so on.... This tendency must obviously be stamped out or goodness knows where it will lead.
    Jack Schofield
  • Accessing hosted Windows applications and desktops from Chromebooks is no longer an issue, if you have an HTML5 RDP client and are connected of course. Ericom AccessNow (full disclosure - I'm an Ericom employee) is a "clientless RDP client" that is already deployed with several Chromebook sites where the devices are being used in production and enable accessing a Windows desktop from a browser. IT staff sees value in not having to maintain any client software, especially with the myriad of issues related to BYOD. Chromebooks offer an alternative, especially now that both Webapps and services And Windows Desktops and applications are available on them, and with little IT headache.
    anonymous
  • I have a netbook that has Linux Mint installed, however, the only app I ever really use on it is Chromium, so what I want is ChromeOS, not a ChromeBook, just the OS. I can't afford a ChromeBook and in any event they in no way represent good value for money, but give me the OS and I will use it on my netbook for sure and will even install it on my Windows desktop PC in a dual boot configuration (which is a snap if WUBI is used) so that when I want quick access to the web I can get it. This is what I thought ChromeOS was all about, not a piece of hardware!
    anonymous
  • @Ilan Paretsky via Facebook

    Excellent point! What's the performance like when accessing a Windows desktop from a browser?

    @Andrew Maggs via Facebook

    Doesn't your netbook have a version of Splashtop? If not, can't you install ChromeOS from
    http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os/developer-guide
    Jack Schofield
  • Actually Chromebooks are a perfect fit for the oft overlooked education market by all the technocratri. 9 hours of battery life which means that they don't have to be tethered between lessons. 10 second from cold boot time (unlike the 2 minute boot up and login, keyboard bashing, pen USB jabbing that we have with the Microsoft option) Frequently updated OTA, no virus or security issues and works seamlessly with Google Apps which is what an increasingly large number of both Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education establishments are turning to due to the huge cost savings over the Microsoft solution and the fact that it removes the tech issues of hosting your own servers in a school environment. My only gripe is the price which is still too high even at the £15 a month rental option with instant return to base backup over three years. They need to be sub £200 before they really attractive to cash strapped schools. It really bugs me to see schools buying iPads for their entire student body. Hugely expensive and have you ever tried writing an essay on an iPad. They quickly become excuses for kids to download a range of games apps. A touch screen Chromebook a la Asus Transformer is where it could get really interesting..
    prettejohn
  • @prettejohn

    The Chromebook idea has been tried before, without taking off, and Microsoft did it much better than Google a dozen years ago. Indeed, something like the Compaq Aero 8000 from 1999 or a Psion NetBook might still provide more useful functionality, given the Chromebook's terrible lack of apps. Or they would if you could update the browser ;-)

    I can understand the desire to control what kids do, but I don't think the best answer is to remove most of the functionality they'd get from a proper laptop.

    Since you have no control over what Google rolls out -- and there is no roll-back -- you also have no control over whatever stops working. Indeed, given Google's track record (Wave, Buzz, Checkout, Lively etc), it could easily drop the whole project tomorrow. Under the circumstances, I think you'd need a lot of faith (or to be mad) to take this route.
    Jack Schofield
  • 99% of students require the following:

    1. To surf the internet
    2. To write up notes/essays/presentations/mindmap etc.. - All done with Google Apps which works perfectly with a Chromebook?
    3. If not there's a Citrix login which allows you to use a virtual login if you really feel the need to get your Microsoft fix.
    4. That's it!

    What extra functionality do they need from a 'proper laptop'?

    Are you saying that Google is going to give up on Google Apps? A huge number of educational establishments across the world are adopting it so they don't have to pay the exorbitant Microsoft fess and it's far more reliable. Also comes with 25GB of space...

    Some examples here:
    http://www.google.com/a/help/intl/en-GB/edu/customers.html

    Nothing mad about investing in a rental option where schools get to keep the hardware whatever happens..
    prettejohn
  • Longer battery life from Windows 7 laptop - No way! not real usage battery life.
    Mah
  • whoops

    Hahahahahahaha
    James Welbes