Why there's no good reason to buy a Chromebook

Why there's no good reason to buy a Chromebook

Summary: Why are Chromebooks not selling, except to school districts? The better question might be why would anyone buy a Chromebook when they do so little? Microsoft takes an utterly different and more useful approach.


[Math geek correction below. See the diagram caption.] 

This is a great era for computer consumers. It's an era of bold experimentation in product design. Many different vendors are taking many different approaches to grab the consumer.

Some of these ideas are great ones and some of them are stupid and useless. I like to think of them in terms of how much they can do, or how practical they are to use for a wide variety of tasks. With that in mind, here's how I see the market for mobile computers (not counting phones):

The mobile computer (not phones) market, conceptually, as a Euler (correction: not Venn) diagram. Perhaps "Windows laptop" should include Macbooks.

In the diagram you can see a philosophy I've held ever since the iPad came out: Tablets do some cool and useful things, but they are far from being laptop replacements. I do a lot of typing and it just can't be done on glass. There are some great third-party keyboards for the iPad and other tablets from Zagg, Logitech and others, but they just don't work as well.

The diagram makes the point that Microsoft is taking a very different approach than Google, especially with regard to hybrid tablet/laptop devices like the Surface. You can see it in their ads about how "…the new Surface with Windows gives you one experience for everything in your life."

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but as I see it, there's nothing you can do with a Chromebook that you can't do with a Windows laptop running Chrome. I just shopped a bit on Amazon and it looks like the prices aren't all that different. So what's the point of buying a Chromebook?

It's important to point out that just because product or segment A does as much and more as product or segment B, it doesn't follow that A does these things as well as B. Thus, many would argue that even if an Android tablet does everything (conceptually) that an iPad does, it doesn't do it as well. (And for sure, they would say, a Windows 8 tablet doesn't do it as well.)

But what does a Chromebook do? It runs Chrome. So can a Windows laptop. So can a MacBook. 

The idea of the hybrids like the Surface is to address all these different sets of user needs. It's a tablet. It's a laptop computer running Windows and Office and all your other Windows programs. It runs Chrome, and therefore does everything a Chromebook does, and the cost is not all that different.

It's with the hybrids that most of the wacky system design is happening. You've got the Lenovo Yoga that flips over backwards. You've got the Dell XPS 12 with the screen that rotates inside a frame. You've got the HP ENVY with a display that pulls off. Windows 8 hybrids would be a slam-dunk if only Microsoft could get people more enthusiastic about Windows 8. Will Windows 8.1 turn the corner? I wouldn't bet on it, but perhaps. There's no question in my mind that Microsoft can get consumers to buy a lot of these devices just by flooding stores with them and promoting them properly. 

It's no surprise that nobody (except for school districts) is buying Chromebooks. If you went into a store and saw all these things, or even a conventional Windows 7 laptop, and then saw a laptop that was basically just a web browser, which would you buy?

Topics: Mobile OS, Android, Google, iOS, Google Apps, Microsoft Surface, Windows 8

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  • Venn Diagram

    While I don't disagree with you about ChromeBooks, and I am very much a Windows guy, to create a Venn Diagram in which Windows Hybrid includes the entirety of "what an iOS/Android tablet does" just ain't right. Yes, a Windows Hybrid does "tablet things", but it most definitely cannot do all the "tablet things" that an iOS or Android tablet can do. I wish it could, and it does a lot of important tablet things well, but let's not kid ourselves.
    • Specifics?

      This is an honest question. Could you provide specifics? Thank you.
      Bob Tabor
      • The specifics

        Well, my bank and my credit card company both have apps for Android/iPad. Nothing for Windows 8/RT/Windows Phone. Also, there are many, many games available on Android/iPad that are not available on Windows tablets.

        When my son wants to borrow a tablet to play a game on, he's always after my wife's iPad. Never asks for my Surface.
        • your bank?

          sorry sir but can't you see your bank account via the plain old browser (metro version if you wanna use your fingers)? on windows pc you have flash (#1 reason for needing a bank app on your ipad) and digital certificate installation (#2 reason for needing the bank specific app)...as for games if you are to consider x86 tablets ther are gazillions of games avialble for windows and not for android/IOS ...so what?
          • Yes, my bank

            I can't deposit a check from the website. I can from my phone or tablet. If your honest with yourself a surface tablet is more of a portable PC. It is extremely lacking at a "tablet". If using your web browser was enough then the app eco system would have never exploded like it has on iOS. Apps are designed for the best experience on a tablet. Websites are designed for the best experience on a desktop / laptop computer with no touch interface. You my sir are missing out and you don't even know it.
          • App Ecosystem Exploding..

            The app ecosystem exploded because Apple refused to support any type of cross-platform solution (Flash, Java, or whatever...). Instead it created an incredibly closed and tightly controlled device that, of all things, required folks to use Objective C, an almost-relic of NeXTSTEP from the 90s.

            I'll certainly admit that the desktop Flash monster was not at all suitable for the first generation of devices. It was a pig. However, both Adobe and Oracle (Java) were feverishly working to make their products work on iOS but Apple prohibited it. Adobe was even to the point of packaging Flash programs with an Objective C wrapper that was compiled with the iOS SDK in an effort to meet with Apple's strict requirements. I believe Oracle was working toward a similar goal with Java.

            Of course Apple has every free-market right to do with their platform as they see fit. From their perspective, it was the right decision and it's made them the current most valuable corporation on the planet. It's hard to argue that their decision was not correct. However, this is feels like a rerun of what Microsoft did in the 90s. Microsoft fought cross-platform like it was a plague. Remember what they did to the web with IE and it's proprietary extensions?

            Again -- these are all legal decisions that any company can make in a free market but that doesn't mean it was the best choice for consumers. Before Apple derailed the browser, it was getting very close to being the cross-platform nirvana for most functional needs. Now we've gone back to the ridiculous mess that we had 20 years ago and HTML5 is once again trying to be the great equalizer for most functional needs.
          • Nope.

            The choice to have an app or not is your banks choice. The Windows hybrid certainly CAN run an app that a bank makes. If you want to talk seriously on that aspect of app availability, there are over 4 million apps available on Windows, tell me again how many apps are available on iOS. Go ahead.... tell me, then let me know when they will catch up?
          • All that do next to nothing

            The number of apps is a really stupid measure. It's like saying, Linux has more clones of MS Office than Windows does. Microsoft's app store is full of pure crap. Just speaking facts, the Windows store is like shopping at the local thrift store and Apple/Google's offerings are like Macy's. There just isn't a comparison.

            Additionally, the tablet experience is way friendlier than say the Desktop or Modern experience. This is the one thing Microsoft doesn't seem to get, people are leaving the desktop because they realize, that doing 500k cell worksheets, having a desktop, being able to have multiple windows is something people did not need. So Microsoft tries this, but the UI sucks for the tablet folk, and the desktop sucks for the desktop folk. They literally came up with an OS that makes no-one happy about using it.

            Finally, for all the others here, until the Metro (Modern) version comes out, the "IT HAS OFFICE" argument shows you have no clue what the problem Microsoft is having with its OS.

            Give me a freaking Chromebook any day. It makes way more sense than the crazy 1980's IconDoIt wanna-be UI that it is trying to be.
        • Wrong Answer

          This is an ecosystem issue and has nothing to do with the platform capabilities itself.

          Meanwhile, I do acknowledge the issue you raise.
          • Wrong Issue

            The real issue is: Windows is a legacy platform. For all it's capabilities, it is still dying. Most people don't want to spend their hard earned money on a dying technology. I know I don't. Microsoft is trying to compete with Google, trying to get their "Start" button right, while Google is trying to improve wearable devices. What a horse race. NOT! The way things are going, Microsoft is headed for....well, let's see what ideas their next CEO can come up with.
          • Right Answer

            Windows is a dying horse. Windows is still around because many business use it and there are people who can't imagine life without Windows and MS Office. It's like you're grandfathers Oldsmobile. But there been I lot of people I know that have dumped Windows in favor of Mac OSX or Linux simply because they bought the computer to use it not to spend so much time maintaining it and constantly fighting off malware and running antivirus software that does nothing but slow the performance of system.
            Tim Heinz
          • Irony

            Completely stepping away from the Technical debate going on here, I did in fact inherit my Grandfathers 1978 Oldsmobile 98 in 2000. Going back to the technical debate, I work for UPS, a company with over 400,000 employees. Each and every employee that has a computer or uses a computer uses a Windows bases PC. There is so much Windows built into the let's call it the IT Ecosystem or Infrastructure, to pull it out is not feasible. I would imagine that many other Fortune 500 companies are caught with the same issue/problem.
            To think of the money that could be saved by getting away from PC's for the vast majority of employees who use their desktop strictly for email is staggering. Yes, I am acutely aware typing on a keyboard is more efficient. So in addition to a decent tablet you give each employee a Bluetooth Keyboard, the money that could be saved is enormous. You also have voice recognition as well as apps that convert handwriting into text as Samsung has pretty much nailed down with the latest S4 Cell Phone and the S 3 series tablets.
            Early in my career I had a conversation with my boss at a managers conference. Interestingly enough the talk began as we both we're leaving our cars after one of the scheduled breaks. He said what are you up to? I told him I was checking my voice mail. He said that he was doing the same. We went on to say that we both agreed we could get all of our work done from the car with a phone, a pen, and a pad of paper. For most in IT management your day is spent going from one meeting to the next so when you break it down, you really only need those three things in order to stay connected in between meetings. This was years ago so now you could really survive with an iPad and a phone or if you want to go completely minimalist, you can get by with just a good phone. Remove the desktops, the phones from the desktops, and the amount of money you could save would be enormous....Just some thoughts...Obviously, implementing such a change would have people going crazy because any change makes employees go crazy after all...
          • It depends on your job

            For many people, the phone can indeed replace a PC, but it depends on your job. If your job involves creating things, such as documents, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, programs, videos or websites then you can't do that on your phone.

            Also if your job is to design or create hardware such as vehicles or buildings or city infrastructure or, ironically, cell phones and PCs, then you can't do that on your phone either. You still need a PC.

            So just because you no longer need a PC to get your job done does not mean that applies to the majority of the workforce.
          • A phone is a PC

            I agree that PC flexibility is needed for most of the companys. Ubuntu is innovating with the slogan: One device to rule them all. And in fact, it's true that most smartphones are fast enough to be a full PC. For a clear explenation of this, with this video:
        • Your bank?

          Whatever bank you go to is just ONE bank in a world of banks? Do you know how many banks are there just in the US?
          Games is another excuse?
        • re. 'The Specifics'

          I literally have the exact opposite problem. I purchased a gen 1 surface RT and my kids hide it from me so they can use it (7yr old and 5 yr old). We have 2 1st gen iPads that wont update to iOS7 that we will trade in this Christmas to get a new surface at Best Buy. I have windows shares in the house and everything is hooked together so they can get all our movies from the surface and whatnot, plus it is relatively similar to what they use in school. On top of that they have accounts for each of them so they can create things without the other messing with them. It's just a better device in my opinion.....
    • It's in the article...

      "It's important to point out that just because product or segment A does as much and more as product or segment B, it doesn't follow that A does these things as well as B. Thus, many would argue that even if an Android tablet does everything (conceptually) that an iPad does, it doesn't do it as well. (And for sure, they would say, a Windows 8 tablet doesn't do it as well.)"
      • Obiviously you didnt read the orginal comment

        The only time the word "well" was used, it referred to a Windows Hybrid doing a lot of important tablet things well. The author said "but it most definitely cannot do all the "tablet things" that an iOS or Android tablet can do." So Bob was asking for specifics.
        I would honestly like to know myself before I purchase something for family this Christmas.
    • Windows Hybrids do everything an iOS/Android tablet does

      Windows Hybrids are actually quite good at doing everything these other devices do. The current Atom (Bay Trail) devices have the same computational power you got back in 2010 on a 1000-1500$ Windows 7 laptop.

      Blue Stacks allows running a lot of Android apps on Windows too. And if it's about games, there are just a ton more good games on GoG alone, than there are on any of the App Stores. Add in Steam and there's no competition.

      Of course the simpler devices (Android being simpler, iOS being a lot simpler/restricted) usually compensate with ease of use - they don't require a ton of updates and restarts after leaving them turned off for 3 months, for example. In my experience they also require less support and cause fewer nerve wrecking incidents. I still prefer Windows for most of my computing devices, because it does more of what I need.
    • What can an Android or iOS device do that Surface Pro can't?

      I'm really curious about that. Surface Pro can do most everything (with some limitation) that a Windows laptop can do. It can also run apps like iOS and Android runs. If your argument is lack of apps on the Windows store, it is a poor one because you can install and use executables that will get the job done until a dev creates a Windows Store app equivalent.
      Not being a fanboy or facetious, really curious here.