Are Chromebooks the right choice of computer for businesses? Google certainly thinks so. The company's rivals (namely Microsoft) obviously disagree. Either way, recent data indicates that the light, low-cost machines are gaining significant ground in the B2B space, not to mention among consumers.
Are Chromebooks ideal for business? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.
The NPD Group put out a report just before Christmas, which has generated a lot of discussion about just how popular Chromebooks are.
"Chromebooks accounted for 21 percent of all notebook sales, up from negligible share in the prior year, and 8 percent of all computer and tablet sales through November, up from one tenth of a percent in 2012 – the largest share increase across the various product segments," it said.
While notebook sales grew 28.9%, the group said Windows notebooks showed no growth over 2012, while Apple sales for notebooks and desktops combined fell by 7%.
It should be noted that the term "notebook" comes with an asterisk of preconfigured desktop and notebook sales only. There's another important caveat to this report, however, and it's all about the B2B.
As USA Today's Michael Comeau, who was critical of the media's coverage of the report, points out, NPD says its data comes from US commercial channels, which is comprised of US B2B sales using distribution partners. In other words, the picture being painted here reflects more on business sales of devices rather than consumer sales.
He's certainly not the only one to pick up on the B2B implications of this report.
"The message? Businesses are turning to the Web, which Chromebooks almost exclusively run," writes Mark Hachman at PCWorld. "And those low-cost, Net-focused devices are becoming engines of productivity. As a result, they’re receiving validation from traditional PC vendors including Acer, Asus, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard, plus Google’s own Pixel."
As with many of its other products, Google has long had businesses in mind with Chrome OS, the operating system that runs on Chromebooks. Here's Google's basic pitch for Chromebooks for business from 2011, which pretty much holds up today.
"Life has become pretty complicated for IT managers and employees," it says. "Everybody juggles a fleet of different devices and operating systems, all running their own local applications and requiring endless cycles of patches and upgrades. All this complexity adds up to constant maintenance, less security, much higher costs, and headaches for users. Google realized that a better solution would be to make the web the platform for all these applications, so they would simply work on any device running a browser."
"Chromebooks securely access all of their data and apps on the web, which means manually configuring, updating, patching, migrating data, and securing PCs becomes a thing of the past," Google continues in the video. "An entire fleet of Chromebooks is simple to configure and manage centrally through the web. Once configured, users have the applications and settings they need as soon as they log on, wherever they are, and since data and apps aren't stored on the PC, a lost computer won't mean the loss of any vital company data. Chromebooks are also fundamentally more secure than traditional PCs because they run in a 'sandboxed' environment that restricts viruses and malware from reaching the operating system, and every time the Chromebook starts, it runs a process called verified boot that ensures the operating system has not been tampered with or corrupted."
Google goes on to make the case that Chromebooks make users happier and more productive by getting them on the web quickly, where they can access apps, documents, and settings using the familiar Chrome browser.
Frankly, having dealt with clunky computers and operating systems for all of my Internet-using life (both PC and Mac), I can vouch for that user happiness of getting to the web quickly. As Google notes, the battery life on these things has also been pretty great in my experience.
"Companies will write fewer checks for software licenses, complex hardware, and data recovery, and IT will spend less time on tedious maintenance tasks," Google says.
None of this is to mention the generally very low prices of Chromebooks themselves. It's no wonder that businesses are flocking to Chromebooks more and more.
Here's a more in-depth discussion about Chromebooks for business between product specialists Will Paulus and Adam Naor and user Eric Hunter, which Google shared last year:
Google says that deploying Chrome devices in place of traditional PCs can save your business, on average, about $5,000 per device over three years. They offer a savings calculator tool here:
Here, you can browse the business-oriented apps that Google highlights for Chromebooks. These include Gmail, Hootsuite, Insightly, MailChimp, Podio, UberConference, Zendesk, Evernote, Google Drive, HelloSign, Lucidchart, Weebly, Asana, Google Calendar, MindMeister, Harvest and Wave (no, not Google Wave).
It appears that the Chromebook craze is really just getting started. As previously reported, Samsung, HP, Asus, Acer and Toshiba are all expected to unveil new Chromebooks this year. Asus is said to have two in the works - an 11.6-inch and a 13.3-inch, both expected to cost less than $350.
NPD's findings aren't very encouraging for Microsoft, as many have pointed out. In fact, even before the report, Microsoft was taking aim at Chromebooks in a recent "Scroogled" ad campaign with the Pawn Stars guy.
It's "not a real laptop" because it doesn't have Windows or Office, according to him. "And when you are online, Google tracks what you do so you can sell ads," he says.
Of course that ad is geared towards consumers rather than businesses, which may even be more troubling for Microsoft.
"None of this has been lost on the OEMs. In 2012, only Acer and Samsung had seriously invested in Chromebooks," writes ComputerWorld's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in an article that calls Chromebook a Windows killer. "By the end of 2013, all the major OEMs were making them. Of the top five PC OEMS, Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer and Asus are all onboard. Dell, the last holdout, announced its Chromebook in December 2013. If Dell is selling Chromebooks, it's because Michael Dell is sure that Chromebooks are here for the long run."
During the holiday season, by the way, two of the three bestselling laptops on Amazon were Chromebooks.
"By this week on Amazon.com, the Asus Transformer had slipped to No. 3 in the laptop category behind two Chromebooks from Acer and Samsung," notes Fortune senior writer Miguel Helft. "It all suggests that the one getting Scroogled is Microsoft."
Of course the notebook picture painted by NPD wasn't all that rosy for Apple either (though the tablet picture is another story). ComputerWorld wonders if Chromebooks are killing off the Macbook. They do note that this is unlikely the case, but also that Macbooks are "being hurt worse" than Windows machines.
Will Google continue to win over businesses with Chromebooks and Chrome OS? Should Microsoft and Apple really be worried? Tell us what you think.