Latest IDC figures show Chromebooks continue to struggle

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.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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