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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.

Nonetheless, Baker and others defended the idea that Chromebooks did well in 2013.

"Chrome had a fabulous year," said Baker, talking about Chrome OS, not the multi-platform browser by that name.

"Yes, I think [the story] was much too overblown with the angles much of the media took, [but] that being said, the growth of the category is a key one to watch," said Ben Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, via email. "What is valid is the potential of this product to further disrupt Microsoft."

Previously, Baker had contended that Chromebooks were one mark of how OEMs, whether by choice or necessity, have capitalized on Windows 8's slow start. "Tepid Windows PC sales allowed brands with a focus on alternative form factors or operating systems ... to capture significant share of a market traditionally dominated by Windows devices," Baker said two weeks ago.

But in his email Baker said he didn't buy the idea that it was a zero-sum game for Windows and Chromebook OS.

"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."

Bajarin agreed on the tablet impact, but not that Chromebooks didn't have the potential to hurt Microsoft. "Chromebooks need to be looked at in the same light as tablets to a degree, in that a sale of a tablet, particularly a non-Windows one, and the sale of a Chromebook, are sales of products that are chipping away at Microsoft's once-dominant position," Bajarin said.

chrome OS vs windows graph
The usage share of Chrome OS in the last two months of 2013 was miniscule, but climbed rapidly starting in mid-December. Microsoft's Windows RT was included for reference. (Data: StatCounter.)

In a Dec. 29 piece published on Techpinions, Bajarin elaborated on his Chromebook take, citing education's interest in the devices as student tools for accessing Web-based curriculum.

"While Chromebooks have a great deal of upside as they evolve, they are being used as specific-purpose devices in nearly all markets today," Bajarin wrote. "This is both the potential of the upside but also the product's challenge in going up against more general-purpose computing devices. Over the next few years, whether its role is as specific-purpose or general-purpose will wait to be seen."

Other critics took aim at the disparity between the talk of Chromebook sales and the lack of online usage evidence from Web metrics firms to corroborate those claims.


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