Chromebooks: Google is coming for you, no robots required

When you think of Google in mobile, Android always comes to mind. That's expected, but a surprising push with Chromebooks is broadening Google's mobile impact.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

Google is going great guns with Android, with millions of new devices activated daily. It is not content to rest on that, with a big push into the PC space with Chromebooks running its other mobile OS, Chrome OS.

Tale of two Chromebooks
(Credit: ZDNet)

The launch of Chrome OS a couple of years ago was met with scepticism as those in the know wondered who would want a laptop that is just a glorified browser. Especially a laptop that required a constant web connection to be useful.

Google didn't seem to worry about that and continued to develop Chrome OS to make it more useful for the buying public. It was also working with major PC makers to get some laptop hardware that would have greater appeal.

The last few months have seen the fruits of this effort come to full force. First Samsung and Google launched the New Chromebook, a solid laptop for only $249. Then Acer followed with its own Chromebook for $199. The king of laptop makers Lenovo has been paying attention to this action and launched its own Chromebook for the education market. This was followed by leaked information about an HP Chromebook that is soon to go on sale.

All of this activity in the Chromebook space is significant as it is taking place while Windows 8 is just getting started in the market. Chromebook makers are also big Windows 8 hardware vendors, and it seems they are covering all their bases with Google's OS.

There's no way to know how many of these Chromebooks are actually being sold to consumers. I don't see them being used in public much, frankly. But Acer is claiming its cheap Chromebook is already accounting for 5 percent to 10 percent of its product shipments after only a couple of months. That is significant enough to warrant close attention to this growing Chromebook space.

I admit when I bought my own Chromebook it was more out of curiosity than anything else. That quickly changed as I discovered that a laptop with an extended Chrome browser was good enough to handle all of my needs.

Chromebooks are not for everyone by a long shot. Power users and those with special needs (software) should stay far away from Chromebooks and stick with Windows or Macs. But the fact is Chrome OS has grown to be good enough to handle the computing needs of a lot of folks. They just don't know it yet.

That is rapidly changing with Google's ad campaign raising awareness about the Chromebook. Awareness of the platform is also growing as folks are realizing that they spend the majority of their computing time in a browser. Many do so in the Chrome browser, so the Chromebook is a natural fit.

I routinely work in public with different mobile devices by Apple in addition to my Chromebook. By far, the latter is the device that garners the most interest by folks in public. I routinely get approached by strangers asking if the laptop I am using is one of those "Google laptops."

Showing them the Chromebook in action quickly demonstrates to many having a look that this can handle most, if not all, of what they do with a computer. It is common to hear that they are going to take a look at the Chromebook.

The low price point of the new Chromebooks is a big reason why folks are paying attention. At around $200, the Chromebook enters the realm of an impulse buy, and I hear regularly that these folks are going to get one to try it.

I repeatedly hear from folks looking at my Chromebook that they're going to pick one up because if it doesn't work out they'll just "give it to the kids." I also hear that after following through on the purchase that they keep it for themselves because they like it so much.

It's worth stating again that the Chromebook is not for everyone, but the fact is it's easy to determine if it might be. Just use the Chrome browser exclusively on your Windows PC or Mac for a day. Find a few of the good Chrome extensions to add any functionality that is needed. I suspect quite a few taking this challenge will be surprised to find that a Chromebook might just be fine. They bridge the gap between the laptop and the tablet, for just two hundred bucks.

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