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Analysts blast crappy Chromebooks reporting, defend platform's potential

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 8, 2014
But they dispute the possible impact on Microsoft's notebook dominance.

Media reports two weeks ago that Chromebooks had had a successful 2013 drew criticism from analysts, including one whose data sparked the coverage.

"There has been a ton of misreporting as many lazy reporters and bloggers have characterizsd this as all sales, which it wasn't, or even consumer sales, which it most assuredly was not," said Stephen Baker of the NPD Group, in an email reply to questions. "It has been very personally distressing to me that so many reporters/bloggers refuse to read, or don't know what commercial channels mean."

Baker was referring to information NPD released Dec. 23 that said Chromebooks accounted for 21% of all U.S. notebook sales through the commercial retail channel for the first 11 months of 2013.

In his email, Baker defined the commercial channel as the distributors -- like CDW and Ingram Micro -- that many businesses, government agencies, schools and other organisations 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.

Computerworld reported on Baker's findings -- as well as's tout about Chromebooks grabbing two of the three spots in its holiday best-selling computers list -- on Dec. 27. The news story failed to clarify that NPD's figures tracked only those sales through distributors, but did note that the numbers were for commercial sales only.

When other reports assumed that NPD's data included all U.S. sales, including consumer, or that the numbers reflected all business sales, not just retail through distributors, skeptics wondered what the writers, or their source, Baker, had been smoking.

"I know it's a slow news week but three bull**** stories is a bit much," tweeted analyst Benedict Evans on Dec. 29, citing "Chromebook explosion" as one of the trio. "All nonsense," Evans said.

Critics of the reports scoffed at the data, misinterpreted or not, saying that they'd never seen a Chromebook in the wild, implying that meant the devices could not exist in numbers, and that Google's browser-based Chrome OS, which powers Chromebooks, would never threaten Windows' dominant position in notebook operating systems.

Even Microsoft got in on the act.

A spokesperson emailed Computerworld with a list of what he called "observations," citing data from researcher IDC to claim that if a "fuller measure of sales" were used, Chromebooks would account for just 2% of the global personal computer market, that seven of Amazon's top 10 were Windows-based systems, and that because only about 20 Chromebook notebooks were for sale on Amazon during the holidays, compared to hundreds of Windows laptops, "It is only natural that the few [Chromebook] models would cluster at the top."


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