Chromebook to see limited adoption among Asian companies

Price of Google laptop is attractive for cash-strapped businesses, but concerns about offline use and its lack of backward software compatibility will curb its adoption in the enterprise space.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Despite being competitively priced, Google's new generation of Chromebooks will see little adoption among enterprises in Asia due to its lack of backward compatibility with existing enterprise software and connectivity issues in emerging markets.

Last Thursday, Google unveiled the new Samsung Chromebooks, with the cheapest model retailing at US$249 in the United States. IT departments pay an additional US$150 to get other functionalities such as a management console and 24-hour phone support.

The laptop runs on Google's Chrome OS operating system (OS), replacing the traditional computing OS with a browser.


Instead of having to purchase and install office productivity software such as Microsoft Office on the device, office users can tap Google's Web-based productivity app suite, Google Docs, to create and edit documents. They can also install other apps from the Chrome Web Store.

The device is currently available only in the United States and United Kingdom. When approached by ZDNet Asia, Google declined to comment on when the Chromebook will be launched in Asia-Pacific.

Price attractive, but Web requirement a concern
Mark Levitt, director of enterprise software and communications at Strategy Analytics, said the Chromebook targets companies, especially small and midsize businesses (SMBs), that have embraced SaaS apps such as Google Docs.

"For workers who can operate independently without the management console and support, the US$250 price is very competitive compared to netbooks and laptops," Levitt said.

Andrew Brown, director of enterprise research at Strategy Analytics, said the Chromebook can find opportunities particularly in developing Asian markets where budgets are tight.

"In an era when IT is being squeezed, [the pricepoint] makes the CIO and CFO happy", he said, adding that compared to other devices in the market, the Chromebook is much cheaper.

Brown noted that Chromebook is half the price of the Apple iPad and Microsoft Surface RT. It is also 50 to 70 percent cheaper than Windows 8 convertible tablets, and 70 to 75 percent cheaper than the price of Windows 8 ultrabooks, he said.

He said the strength of Google's brand and "smart design" of the notebook are other attractive points for businesses in emerging markets of Asia.

However, he noted the lack of rich infrastructure in these developing economies means the Chromebook--which requires Web connectivity for access to applications--is less useful, unless it can continue to operate seamlessly as a laptop when offline.

Besides issues with connectivity, Katyayan Gupta, associate research manager at Forrester Research, said companies in emerging Asia-Pacific markets, such as India, China, and parts of Southeast Asia, still support a majority of employees who work on desktops.

"Thus, neither is the workforce used to laptop-based working nor do the organizations have backend systems in place to support mobility," Gupta said.

However, mature markets in the region such as Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong are more ready for the Chromebook, as they are more exposed to cloud computing and have a better understanding of its pros and cons, he said.

Levitt noted that one of the challenges for Chromebook is addressing real and perceived concerns about its offline use, especially for mobile workers in areas with spotty connectivity.

While the new Chrome OS offers better offline support compared to its previous generation, employees will still need to access other apps that require connectivity, he said.

Gupta believes the lack of connectivity is more of a factor for emerging markets where there is no nationwide wireless broadband coverage, or even when there is connectivity, the service is extremely fractured.

Not ready for enterprise use
Craig Stice, senior principal analyst for compute platforms at IHS, also noted the laptop's limited local storage of 16GB might be a problem for business workers.

Business users may want to have the capability to store files locally for instant access and edit capabilities, without needing to worry about logging on or converting from and to a Google Doc format, Stice said.

He added that he is "skeptical" the new Chromebook is ready to meet the everyday needs of corporate users.

Backward compatibility with standard x86 PC software and compatibility with customized corporate software are important considerations for enterprises when considering new devices, he said. In this, the Chromebook with its Chrome OS loses out as companies can purchase a full x86 system for only a small amount more, Stice noted.

Brown added that despite Chrome OS being a "slick and well-supported dev-environment", enterprises will wonder whether it is worth replacing and throwing out their legacy x86 applications.

Moreover, many Web apps are not suitable for the rigor of business use which will make the Chromebook a non-starter, he said.

Stice also questioned the Chromebook's ability to handle enterprise usage, where the typical user would have multiple windows, applications, spreadsheets, presentations and e-mail open at the same time.

Commercial PCs are loaded with more powerful features than consumer PCs because business workers expect an uninterrupted working system and business managers expect high efficiency, he said.

Companies also fear putting all their data in the cloud from both a data security and disaster management perspective, he noted, adding this will be another roadblock for the Chromebook.

Stice said: "All that being said, we are not trying to say the Chromebook will fail."

There may be some market segments where its price and style fit, but for now it will be difficult for Chromebook to appeal beyond those niche markets, he said.

Mixed reactions from users
Debbie Yong who is looking for a new mobile computer said she is considering buying the Chromebook if it is available in Singapore. She is attracted to the price of Chromebook and will be using the device at home or locations with Internet connection.

However, student Adrianna Tan said she would rather spend money on a tablet which is more convenient. Tablets also come with more storage, she said, adding that she does not really trust having her files stored only on the cloud.

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