Who’s buying Chromebooks? American schools

Sales of Chromebooks are expected to leap by 79% this year – but most of the total 5.2 million devices will be sold to US schools.

Who's buying Chromebooks? American schools

Chromebooks first arrived in 2011, with Samsung and Acer each launching a low-cost cloud-based notebook running Google’s Chrome OS.

Since then, Chromebook sales have gradually accelerated, with the vast majority of devices going to schools in the US. Last year, 85% of the 2.9 million Chromebooks sold were in the US, and 82% were to the education sector.

Google reported earlier this year that a fifth of US school districts were using Chromebooks, which represents about 5,000 schools – up from 2,000 at the beginning of 2013.

School sales are more limited in the UK, however: Samsung told PC Pro that it had shipped between 15,000 to 20,000 Chromebooks to British schools in 2013. British PC maker Novatech said it’s seen “slow and steady growth in Chromebook sales to schools, but they still account for a tiny proportion of our overall turnover”.

“Microsoft has been quite innovative in protecting their share of the education market and we’ve seen the benefit with sales of our Windows machines,” said head of marketing Tim LeRoy.

Novatech said that Chromebooks have proved less popular in business. “So far, very few businesses have been requesting Chromebooks, but the popularity of Google apps is definitely increasing,” LeRoy said.

Gartner said companies are considering the platform, but not yet making the move from Microsoft. “So far, businesses have looked at Chromebooks, but not bought many,” said Gartner analyst Isabelle Durand. “By adopting Chromebooks and cloud computing, businesses can benefit; they can shift their focus from managing devices to managing something much more important — their data.”

She suggested that companies such as Acer and Samsung – the first to launch Chromebooks, and the market leaders for the devices – see Chrome OS as a way to shift focus from consumer laptops into the more lucrative business market.

“While there is less presence in the business market, and a limited product portfolio for mid-size businesses, Chromebooks could open doors to the business market,” said Durand.

Gartner predicts that sales will triple to 14.4 million by 2017, but that Chromebooks will remain “niche” for at least the next five years. Chromebook shipments of 5.2 million this year represent a tiny slice of the 308 million desktops and laptops that Gartner predicts will be sold.

What can Chromebook makers – and Google – do to draw in more users? Durand suggests they need more solid-state storage, faster memory and better user support. “Making a competitive Chromebook is not just a matter of hardware and price; what is most important is to show how the device’s cloud-based architecture provides genuine advantages to users,” she added.

Winning at Chromebooks

Globally, Samsung nabbed 65% of the Chromebook market in 2013, selling 1.5 million devices last year. Acer is in second place with 21%, while HP ranked third.

In the UK, Google lists eight models for sale, including its own Chromebook Pixel, and that doesn’t include Dell’s budget version or Lenovo’s devices.

“Lenovo’s Chromebooks are very rugged, compared with the competition, and therefore ideal for primary and secondary school pupils,” Gartner said. “However, Lenovo needs to manage its devices portfolio in such a way as to avoid selling so many Chromebooks that it undermines sales of its other ThinkPads — which provide better margins.”

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