Chromebooks Are Competing With iPads

Gregg Keizer of ComputerWorld wrote an article that corrected the misinformation spread by many journalists/bloggers a few weeks ago regarding Chromebooks sales in the “commercial channel”.

The initial report by Stephen Baker of NPD was released on December 23rd, 2013 and mentioned that Chromebooks accounted for 21% of all U.S. notebook sales through the commercial channel for the first 11 months of 2013. The important word is “commercial channel”. Stephen Baker defines the commercial channel as follows;

Baker defined the commercial channel as the distributors — like CDW and Ingram Micro — that many businesses, government agencies, schools and other organizations use to buy personal computers and other devices. His data did not include consumer sales, nor PCs sold by OEMs, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, directly to businesses.

I analyzed Baker’s data to find that “commercial channel” is only a fraction of total PC sales in the U.S., and that this report does not directly show Chromebooks gaining popularity in the mainstream market.

The question is then, what does this report mean for the mainstream market. Stephen Baker provides some clues;

“On the subject of Chromebooks versus clamshell notebooks, I don’t subscribe to the idea that [the former] are taking sales from Windows,” Baker said. “In my view, they are just as likely, actually more likely, to be taking sales from Android tablets or iPads, or just expanding the market than they are taking sales from Windows PCs in these business-to-business and education markets.”

What Mr. Baker is saying is that education customers who eventually deploy Chromebooks were not looking at Chromebooks vs. Windows but rather Chromebooks vs. iPad. The decision was whether to purchase large numbers of Chromebooks or whether to purchase iPads. A simple Google search actually pulls up a lot of educators discussing this topic. It apparently boils down to Chromebooks having a physical keyboard, and iPads having a much more immersing experience.

The reference to “expanding the market” is probably about schools deploying computers on a scale so that each student has a computer of their own. This apparently has only become possible with the large reductions in hardware costs and is now a reality for an increasing number of schools. Growing the market is likely referring to how iPads and Chromebooks are helping to make this happen.

As to whether gaining a foothold in the education market will eventually enable Chromebooks to move up-market into general-purpose computing devices, there is very little precedent for that. Apple used to be very popular in education, but that didn’t help it grow market share in businesses or consumer markets.