Incredible demand development hastens adoption of Chrome OS
For many years now, as former detractors became converts – and even prosthelytizers – of the lightweight Chrome OS and the highly inexpensive laptops it drives, Chromebooks have steadily gained a fairly devoted following. Yet, as the operating system of choice for the vast majority of users, it hasn’t come close to challenging Microsoft or Apple – or even Linux.
There are a whole host of reasons for this, not least of which is the far-sighted decision of Microsoft to license its operating systems to OEMs, which in the early to mid-1990s helped it capture over 95 percent of the PC market, a market position that has only marginally diminished due to the success of rival OSX-powered laptops and desktops from Apple.
As it stands, according to GlobalStats, a group that includes laptop computers, Windows installs comprise just over 76 percent of desktop operating systems. Another 17% of desktop OS installs are accounted for by Apple’s OSX, representing just over 93 percent of desktop installations.
Chrome OS, meanwhile, accounts for just 1.83% of OS installs – not an enviable market place – but the whole story is not told by that figure.
With the latest pandemic of coronavirus affecting educational routines worldwide, Chromebooks have become a critical lifeline for schools to move to remote learning almost overnight.
Low-cost laptops have made it possible for students everywhere to continue their schooling, regardless of the means, with some semblance of a daily routine, and the remote learning infrastructure that was hastily installed in the early days of the pandemic can continue in several respects once the pandemic subsides.
Any teacher will tell you that in-person teaching is not replaced, so students will one day leave the Zoom classes behind and return to the physical classroom – but they will carry their Chromebooks with them, and it will have a long-lasting effect on the future of Chrome OS and the Chromebooks they operate.
How Chromebook sales are turbocharged by remote learning
According to market researcher Canalys, desktop PC sales took a big hit in Q3 2020, dropping 27 percent short year on year for desktop workstations and 33 percent for tower and small desktop PCs. This is not shocking considering that offices around the world have closed down to adhere to protocols of social distancing.
Instead, as the global workforce made the transition to work from home, laptops saw a massive increase in total revenue, driving an emerging movement towards mobile device systems such as laptops and tablets.
Everywhere, schools and families have switched to Chromebooks as low-cost alternatives to the challenge of remote learning with the new academic year beginning in Fall 2020, sparking a 122 percent increase in Chromebook sales in Q3 2020.
In total, the quarter sold 9.4 million Chromebooks, and while Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 are unlikely to see the same kind of raw units sold as the start of an academic year, with the end of the pandemic, dependence on Chromebooks to meet students’ educational needs is not going to vanish.
We don’t want the situation to be overstated. A fraction of the 124.5 million computers (including tablets) sold in the quarter (approximately 7.5 percent) was the 9.4 million Chromebooks sold in Q3 2020, but nobody can expect Chromebooks to unexpectedly challenge the Windows/OSX duopoly in 2021, if ever.
But who ends up using them is just as important as the amount of Chromebooks being sold – maybe even more important.
Chrome OS is the first OS student ever to experience Chrome.
One of the genius insights from the business strategy of Microsoft in the 1990s was that they ensured that the first PC of a family was almost assured to be a Windows PC by having their OS on as many computers as possible. Children grew up using Windows in the 1990s and soon became familiar with the system, making it more likely that they would continue to purchase Windows PCs in the future.
If anyone questions this, just look at what happened when netbook manufacturers attempted to keep costs down by installing a Linux OS instead of Windows in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Today, though, kids are using computers in ways they’ve never had before as an important part of their education, and for many of them, Chrome OS is the first operating system they’re familiar with.
This fact is not lost on Microsoft, as Extremetech points out, and is likely behind many of its recent steps to improve its presence in the education space with products such as Office 365 and requiring Microsoft accounts to use many of its non-education products such as Minecraft.
And while there’s no doubt that those same children whose first device is a Chromebook will inevitably have to operate inside the ecosystems of Microsoft and Apple as well, the proven awareness of Chrome OS and Chromebooks makes it far more likely that in the future they will be open to purchasing Chromebooks.
Chromebooks are more durable than ever before.
It is ironic that Cyberpunk 2077 was even more stable on Google Stadia for many players than it was on their PCs or game consoles, and even only playable. But it’s not at all shocking if you know something about cloud computing.
Chromebooks with a good internet connection are increasingly able to hold their own against Windows and OSX devices in terms of functionality by offloading all the resource intensive work to the cloud. There are quite a few things that Chromebooks have over legacy OS systems that are going to be a big market advantage in the future.
While the relatively low cost of a Chromebook is evident, its lower device overhead is maybe even more important. Chrome OS was built to be particularly lightweight to allow low-end hardware to run on it, but we’re seeing more powerful Chromebooks make their way to the market.
Although looking fantastic at the same time, the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 has some pretty impressive specs at a decent price. In the meantime, AMD is launching a new line of Ryzen mobile processors that prioritize performance while still offering much more efficiency than an ARM-based processor.
With so much of the features of a Chromebook tied to the cloud, having the kind of specs usually reserved for Windows or OSX laptops with a light-touch OS means that with the latest updated hardware you will be able to get some very great results.
This is particularly important for the other big feature of the Chromebook: access to the environment of the Android app. Although Windows may have the most desktop installations out there of any operating system, it’s not actually the world’s most common operating system.
That would be the Android OS from Google, which, when you account for phones and tablets, powers 41.58 percent of “computers” in the world. With so many Android users around the world, Chromebooks have the added benefit of connecting to the most common app ecosystem in the world that can combine the phone, tablet, and laptop of a customer under a single unified ecosystem under a single Google account. That’s something that laptops with Windows obviously can’t do.
All of this points to Chromebooks’ continued development over the next few years, and 2021 may very well be the year Chromebooks finally begin to win over the masses.