The murky path forward for Chromebooks

The murky path forward for Chromebooks

Summary: Google is probably feeling pretty good with increasing sales of the Chromebook, but it's not clear how to keep the momentum going.

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It took a few years but sales of Chromebooks are now growing at a fast clip. The low-cost laptops running Chrome OS are not selling in numbers to challenge the big boys, but they are doing pretty well considering it's a relatively new platform.

Sales are especially good in the education sector where the Chromebook is a good fit. No question Google and partners will keep pitching the laptops to schools.

With things going well for Chromebooks, it won't serve Google well to be satisfied with the status quo. Getting Chrome OS out in numbers is directly reliant on the Chromebook, and it's going to take some effort to keep that moving in the proper direction.

How to do that is not clear from this writer's perspective. A big draw to get buyers to try Chrome OS has so far been the low cost of the laptops running it. Google and Chromebook partners have been able to capitalize on the price disparity between them and competing laptops.

That price gap is beginning to erode, with inexpensive laptops appearing with Windows 8.1. OEMs making Windows laptops, often the same ones making Chromebooks, are now offering models at prices approaching those of Chromebooks.

There are some Chrome OS enthusiasts calling for a tablet, and on the surface that might be the way to go. Google recently turned on touch support in Chrome OS proper, so it might be planning on a Chrome tablet from some quarter.

I'm not sure how useful such a tablet will be for users. There's a wide gap between touch "enabled" and touch "optimized". Just ask Microsoft about that, as it struggled with the same situation pre-Windows 8.

As much as I like Chrome OS and the Chromebook, I don't see the benefits of a ChromePad. Chrome is basically a browser on steroids, and it's not an improved experience with touch. A case can be made that it's not as good with touch as it's primarily used today.

The way forward for the Chromebook is not clear, but Google may have some tricks up its sleeve. Getting developers to write apps for Chrome is a good step, and making sure they all run offline is even better. This will shrink the gap between Chrome OS and competing OSes.

That aside, there needs to be a killer app for the Chromebook. I'm not talking about the Chrome browser, that's available on nearly every mobile device. It needs to be a function that is better on the Chromebook than competing mobile devices. If it's optimized for touch, so much the better.

The problem is, I can't come up with a function that would make the Chromebook (or tablet) appeal to the masses. The mobile space is saturated with tablets and laptops of all shapes and sizes, and they all do pretty much the same things. They do them well, too, so Google may have a big task on its hands to come up with that killer new feature.

Additional Chromebook coverage: 

Topics: Mobility, Google, Laptops, Tablets

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73 comments
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  • ChromeOS is the killer app

    Been running ChromeOS as my primary and virtually my only platform for the last year. I think ChromeOS itself is the killer app. No maintenance, no malware issues, fast and stays that way over time. I think Google and partners just need to be more aggressive in getting the word out about what this platform can do.
    greg@...
    • There is certainly a lack of advertising/awareness

      And Google just needs to address some of the "holes" as they go along.
      They are making steady and consistent progress, with little features are being added with each release.
      The Chrome web store is a mess, and should be incorporated into the Play Store and tidied up.
      Google don't seem to be pushing the adoption of Chrome Apps very much, and you have to wonder where they will stand once android apps become available on the platform.
      The addition of Android apps will help on the gaming front though. ChromeOS is not a gaming platform.
      Really Google need to be in for the long haul. This generation has concerns over the web as a platform, but it's likely future generations will be more partial to the concept.
      Boothy_p
      • Too expensive

        in Europe they need to be priced competitively. Currently the ARM based Chromebooks are more expensive than Celeron based Windows notebooks.

        In March there was one Chromebook in the top 30 notebooks on Amazon Germany. In July there wasn't a single one in the top 100.
        wright_is
    • simplicity

      It's a no hassle laptop. I still prefer a full desktop cause the only thing I do at home on a computer is photoshop/lightroom and steam, but it's perfect for my mom (and for me since I don't have to fix her computer anymore.)
      Jean-Pierre-
    • Amazing

      So efficient. Love my new Dell Chromebook. I'm using on-line accounting and mortgage application software - haven't missed a beat. No more 15 minutes a day farting around with Windows or updates or viruses. Fifteen minutes x 365 is 91 hours a year or 10 business days.
      DonSmith.org
      • Amazing

        Sounds like you were a pretty clueless Windows user if you needed to spend that much time on Windows maintenance tasks, particularly if your usage was/is limited to online apps.
        boycottFUD
        • And that's the point ...

          I don't need to known anything about Chrome OS to keep it running as smoothly and securely as when I first pulled it out of the box. A modern OS shouldn't require extra knowledge to keep it maintained, it should just work.
          chuckharold
      • Windows 8.1

        If you are using Windows 8.1 and set it up with the default settings (a quick setup wizard that runs at the beginning), you never really have to go to the desktop and just stay in Modern (Metro) and it will be setup to auto update. The PC will cont. to run smoothly, settings will sync with OneDrive, etc.

        If you need more powerful applications, then dip into the desktop.
        Rann Xeroxx
        • Yup

          But I prefer the desktop and only go to the tiles when needed.
          Gisabun
      • Errrr

        And what year did you last use Windows? 1997?
        Viruses? What are they? Oh you mean malware? Haven't had anything for 6+ years.
        Windows updates? You mean they come in every day? Weird. I get just once a month on the second Tuesday.
        Gisabun
    • Malware issues

      I've been running Windows since 1987, along with MacOS / OS X and UNIX / Linux and have had no malware issues with Windows during that time.

      The problem at the moment is that the web apps can't match local apps for performance and features. I've tried working on Office.com and Google Docs, neither provide enough functionality that I can leave local applications behind.

      The web browser is useful for research at work but for the work itself, it probably makes up less than 10% of what I need for my daily workload.

      We seem to be rushing back to the 70s...
      wright_is
      • OK

        OK, then you will not need a Chrome OS device. If you are all work ( work which requires certain software ) and no play, you may not even need a Chrome OS as a second or third device. It ain't for everyone -- it is for most people however. If online ( Cloud ) services do not work for your needs, then it could be that it just is not gonna be your cup o' tea.
        mytake4this
        • Exactly

          That was my point, not everybody has a workflow that benefits from having a terminal instead of a computer.

          It is funny, we celebrated the freedom of being tied to central storage and processing in the 80s, now we are celebrating being shackled to central storage and processing again... The IT industry is running in circles, chasing its own tail.
          wright_is
  • Chrome Books don't need a killer app, that's the point.

    It needs to stay basic with performance boosts as the price point allows.
    CrimsonEclipse
  • ChromeOS is an answer...

    Been running with ChromeOS on book and box since the April WinXP support termination. I love it and found the transition easier than app driven smartphones and even a Mac I use exclusively for music production. However, there are some apps either missing or not in an ideal form yet such as a reliable (basic) FTP equivalent to CuteFTP and a robust web development environment. Plus it would be brilliant to have a USB plug in drive ;-) Otherwise let's hope the murkiness is only a way forward that we as users cannot discern rather than the Google powers?
    BanksyBoy
  • No Murkiness

    Nothing "murky" here at all. Google "Loon" and the other wide area high speed data service ideas that Google is working on will give the Chrome OS perfect universal usability.
    So far every indication is the any/all of the Google "wireless connectivity" projects are intended to result in low cost widely available internet at speeds suitable for at least medium definition video as soon as the service is offered. Result, the Chrome OS becomes an everywhere OS instead of a location dependent OS.
    The publicly acknowledged really experimental things Google is doing may result in HD level bandwidths again covering VAST areas of the earths surface. At this point, Google will hammer the "traditional" (ie over the air TV including satellite and wireless phone Co's,) wireless services into the ground.
    CutRightSharpening
  • Almost zero maintenance

    I just purchased the second Chromebook for our family. The first one was purchased a year ago. It's performance has been flawless. I have not had to fix a thing on it. My daughter has found it to be perfect for school. Asked my wife if she wanted a used Mac or CB. She chose the CB.
    timdor
    • Hmmmm

      Computing for d_____s.
      Gisabun
  • windows RT has been hated for his incompatibilities and over simplicity

    And Chrome OS has been praised for the very same thing. Where did I miss something ?

    I still prefer Windows RT over Chrome OS because apps are the same on my desktop. It's the same simplicity as Chrome OS. No hassle with updates or virus. Simple to use, and touch optimized.

    Windows RT is not a dead horse, it's a missed opportunity from Microsoft to "clean and simplify" Windows for the consumers.
    Maxime Tremblay
    • I think they are very different

      Chromebooks are like a laptop, Windows RT was (is?) trying to be for tablets although they were running windows 8 with stuff that was moved.
      Extra security coming with RT it's more related with binary non-compatibility than anything else.
      AleMartin