Latest IDC figures show Chromebooks continue to struggle

Latest IDC figures show Chromebooks continue to struggle

Summary: After more than two years on the market, Chromebooks appear to be suffering from the same malaise as netbooks. The latest figures from IDC show that only Samsung has been able to ship more than "tiny volumes" of Chromebooks, and most sales have been in the K-12 education market, not to consumers.

TOPICS: PCs, Google, Tablets

My ZDNet colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been pounding the table for Chromebooks since their launch more than two years ago. Back in June 2011, he called the Chromebook a “Windows killer,” predicting that “Microsoft is facing real trouble” in the market for desktop PCs.

Last April I wrote that Chromebooks were struggling in the market, based on real-world usage figures. That's an illusion, according to Mr. Vaughan-Nichols, who argues today that "Chromebooks have been selling like hotcakes on a cold morning for a year now."

When I read that, I did an actual double-take. Then I took a closer look at the latest sales figures and discovered that nothing appears to have changed since earlier this year. In fact, for the first time there are cold hard numbers that suggest Chromebooks have been a pretty spectacular flop.

Don't take my word for it—let's look at the actual sales numbers, as provided by IDC (who are very good at what they do). Here's a quote from that same post; I've highlighted a few key facts:

Rajani Singh, Senior Research Analyst for IDC's quarterly PC Tracker, [says]:

"Chromebooks from any vendor except Samsung have not fared particularly well. Even with Samsung's products, they're primarily only having an impact on K-12 education in the US--as a replacement for aging netbooks. In Q3 '13, Samsung shipped roughly 652,000 Chromebooks Worldwide ... Among other vendors Lenovo, Acer and HP have shipped, but in tiny volume. Samsung continues to hold the number one position..."

Got that? In the entire 3rd calendar quarter of 2013, the leading Chromebook vendor, Samsung, shipped only 652,000 devices, and IDC says every other vendor had shipments that represented "tiny volume."

So how does that stack up against the PC and tablet market as a whole?

Lucky for us, IDC has released recent figures for PC and tablet shipments in Q3 2013. So let's look them up, shall we?


First, the PC market.

October 9, 2013 / IDC Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker on global PC shipments in Q3

Total PC shipments: 81.6 million

According to ZDNet's Rachel King, "the PC market didn't do as badly as expected" in the quarter, primarily because of the enterprise and public sector markets with a "slight uptick in business volume" contributing to growth. She adds: "IDC researchers summed up the consumer market contribution and sentiment as 'lukewarm at best...'"

And now tablets.

October 30, 2013 / IDC on tablet market in Q3:

iPad: 14.1 million

Other tablets: 33.5 million

We now have all the numbers we need. During the quarter, PCs and tablets combined to ship more than 129 million units worldwide. During the exact same period, according to numbers from the exact same source, the leading Chromebook vendor shipped 652,000 devices. Let's assume, generously, that the "tiny volume" for other vendors collectively adds up to half of what Samsung was able to ship. Even with that assumption, the total number of Chromebooks shipped during the quarter is under 1 million.

That's roughly the number of Surface RTs Microsoft shipped during the quarter, after taking a $900 million writeoff and slashing prices for the device.

To put things in perspective, Chromebooks in Q3 2013 had at best a 1.2 percent share of the PC market and a 0.76 percent share of the combined PC-tablet market.

That's hardly a rousing success.

My takeaway? Chromebooks are hitting the same brick wall that stopped netbooks. Over the past year or two, the market for those dirt-cheap netbooks has plummeted, while sales of business PCs have been flat. During Q3, Lenovo, Dell, and HP all saw their global share of the PC market increase, largely on sales of business PCs. Two companies that are tied to the consumer market and made huge investments in netbooks and cheap PCs in recent years, Acer Group and ASUS, saw their market shares plummet by roughly 34 percent year over year.

One of the most interesting quotes in SJVN's post was this one from Stephen Baker, VP of Industry Analysis for Consumer Technology for NPD Group. Baker said that Chromebooks "have consistently accounted for 20-25 percent of the entry-level market for consumer notebooks in 2013." If that's the case, it's shows just how weak the consumer PC segment is, especially at the bottom end.

Extrapolating from the number of Chromebook shipments counted in IDC's numbers, that means the total number of entry-level consumer notebooks shipped was under 4 million, representing less than 5 percent of the total PC market.

And as IDC's Singh noted, the current crop of Chromebooks is having its greatest impact on K-12 education in the US, "as a replacement for aging netbooks." There's no indication that consumers are showing any serious interest in them. In the price-sensitive low end of the market, consumers are saying no to anything that looks like a laptop and choosing iPads, Kindles, and cheap Android tablets instead.

Topics: PCs, Google, Tablets

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  • Stop using logic

    600k over the course of a year is ... well ... awesome for Chromebooks.

    If any other company sold that many, it might be a failure, but this is a Chromebook.
    Michael Alan Goff
    • That's roughly the number of Surface RTs Microsoft shipped...

      what a failure, they should pull it from the market immediately and offer refunds to everyone that bought one. There's no apps for it either. There are 125,000 apps in the windows store. Its a waste of money to pay $200 for something you can run for free.
      • Samsung's Chromebook was top selling laptop for months

        Samsung's Series 3 Chromebook, the one with an ARM processor, was the top selling laptop on Amazon for months after its release.

        How can it have been the top seller for so long, and be "struggling"?

        The Chromebook fulfils a need... for people who want a machine that is feather light weight (rather than a heavy brick like most Windows laptops), that is low cost, has long battery life, and can access the internet, which is what most people want to do.

        I like the Chromebook's simplicity, when I need to type and have a laptop form factor.

        Everyone knows that you're not going to do high-end graphics, video editing or rendering on a Chromebook. You know that when you buy one.

        You buy a Chromebook because you want a lightweight machine to access the internet, to surf and do your emails, and not have to worry about maintenance or viruses and all the clug that comes with a Windows computer.
        • Tanks Ed

          Could somebody tell Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols about this. Windows is not dead. Chromebooks have created interest because of the very low price of some of them. But there is no value them.
          • Check out Amazon's list of best sellers

            Google this term: Amazon top laptops

            Go to Amazon's page now. Of the six top-selling laptops, four of them are Chromebooks and two of them Windows laptops.

            Amazon is the biggest computer store on the planet. It is selling direct to consumers, so these are sales to real people.

            IDC's figures are 'shipments' to warehouses, and we've seen Microsoft 'stuff the channel' on previous occasions to make its sales look better than they are.

            We don't have accurate figures for sales to real consumers. But six months ago, Amazon only had one Chromebook in the top six, and now it has four. So we know there must be considerable sales, and we know that sales are increasing (hence more models in the top-sellers).

            If you want to know what it's like to use a Chromebook, just use the Chrome browser on your current PC, and go to the Chrome store and load up some Chrome apps, such as Angry Birds (free).

            We'll soon have competition in this space, with Firefox OS emerging. It's a good thing that we have more choice of device these days.
          • Good one

            Amazon is not the biggest computer store on the market.

            Most people don't buy their computer from Amazon.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • Amazon

            Why should we believe amazon. Maybe they work their "best seller list" to move stock.
          • Because it's a bad statistic.

            Imagine there are 100 different laptops. They all sell around 100 units a year give or take 10. So in a year on average, 10000 units. Now, one of them is a Chromebook and it sells 200 a year on average (we reduce the others accordingly bring us back to 10000 units total).

            Amazon will show, quite correctly, that the Chromebook is the most popular and best selling laptop - but in fact it only has 2% of the market. You're confusing best selling with largest market share.
            The Werewolf!
          • Not just Top Selling but they are sold out.

            Besides 4 of the 6 best selling laptops on Amazon being Chromebooks 2 are actually SOLD OUT. Love the way you compare worldwide shipments when for the most part Chromebooks were only made by 2 OEM's and sold in 2 Countries only through online retailers till 6 months ago. Now it has ramped up to 4 OEM's in 8 countries with some retail locations. If anything Chromebooks have to ramp up on production and distribution, NOT demand and the bestseller and sold out channels prove.
          • The old Surface was sold out for a long time

            Stock doesn't prove anything
            A Gray
          • If I already have the Chrome browser on my PC

            Why do I need a Chrome book? If I want mobile, go mobile with a tablet. otherwise, I can get the entire Chrome experience for free.
            A Gray
          • More to it than that.

            I have Windows 7 PCs, an Asus Transformer Android tablet, and an Acer C7 Chromebook. I love Chrome on the PC. It works well, but the experience on the Chromebook is, well, better. It isn't shackled with all the baggage that Windows carries and the problems with malware. It strips away all the stuff that slows the a PC down and gets in the way of using cloud services. Windows PCs are like a big kitchen refrigerator with ice maker, water in the door, the lettuce crisper, etc. You can keep your beer in it along with everything else. Chromebook is like a bar fridge in the rec room -- it's small, it's cold, only has beer in it, and it's closer to the couch. Of course you're not going to get rid of the kitchen fridge, but the bar fridge makes watching the game on Sunday afternoon a lot better!
            Stephen Gallaher
          • Useless

            And a total brick in a location with no connection to Wi-Fi.
          • apps on Chrome etc.

            I believe Google is developing offline apps for the Chrome system... I know they are doing it for the Chromium and the Chrome browser.
          • the value is in not having to perform continual system administration

            on your laptop and a "baggage free", simpler to use operating system - for better or worse. Its not even for me - but I absolutely can see why it would be great for many people. Its similar to why the ipad was popular and windows tablets were not. However, the PC market, chromebooks included, is definitely not much of a growing market. They are just stealing some share from windows.
          • Depends on their actual numbers

            If Amazon only sold 10,000 laptops, but 8,000 of them were Chromebooks, then by definition the Chromebooks would be *Amazon's* "top-selling" laptop...but if another vendor has sold *300,000* laptops, and only 2,000 of them were Chromebooks, then "Amazon's top-selling laptop" is nowhere near the *overall* best-seller.

            Which, again, is the point of the *real-world* sales figures Ed highlights in the article. Or, to put it into more perspective for you, during the 3rd quarter for every Chromebook that was shipped, other vendors shipped:
            -- 21.7 iPads
            -- 51.5 non-iPad tablets
            -- 125.5 PCs

            In other words, customers aren't buying them in droves, even though they're cheap, because they apparently want something else than a Chromebook.
          • chromebooks popular in K-12 schools but not with consumers

            "It’s hard to find consumers that have embraced Chromebooks. The education market is a different story as 5,000 U.S. school districts now use Chrome books".

            22% of K-12 schools using Chromebooks in their walled gardens.

        • i would love to know

          How many folks at Google use a Chromebook as their primary work device?

          Excel much .... Bwa ha ha ha
          • Umm

            You realize it can do spreadsheets, presentations, and word processing right? However, given the nature of Google's business model, I would say it is a fairly small group that uses the Chrome OS at Google.
          • Clam Shells vs. Tablets

            I think the real point is the clam sell configuration (laptops, netbooks, chromebooks) and tablets (including hybrids). All categories of clams are either declining or hold their own. On tablet sales continue to rise. The operating system is a totally separate issue.