“A chintzy laptop with a browser for an operating system? What a stupid idea.” That was pretty much the reaction from the tech community in June 2011 when Google announced Chromebooks. They were under-specced and utterly useless without an Internet connection. Dead on arrival. But flash-forward three years and suddenly Chromebook sales cracked 5.2 million units in 2014 alone, a number that, according to Gartner, may nearly triple by 2017.
How did it happen? Well, the OS got a lot better, and quickly. Core applications like Gmail, Drive (formerly Google Docs), and Calendar now work offline, making it, essentially, a fully functioning—if basic—laptop. Then manufacturers started selling those fully functioning laptops for $300. Nowhere has the resulting explosion been more evident than in the U.S. education system. Schools are perpetually in need of computers, and if they can get one that does everything students need for a fraction of the cost, it’s a no-brainer. More than 1 million Chromebooks were shipped to the K–12 education market in the third quarter of 2014 alone. In fact, IDC and Futuresource both recently announced that Chromebooks have become the best-selling device for K–12 schools in the country.
“Chromebooks were designed to make computing speedy, simple, secure, and much more affordable for everyone,” Caesar Sengupta, VP of product management of Chrome OS, told us. “Usage is growing fast and defying the more general decline in PC sales. It’s particularly impressive to see the education community’s innovative implementations of Chromebooks in the classroom.”
Through all this, Google is getting kids hooked early on its ecosystem, a strategy Apple used to much success in the ’80s. And it also enables Google to eat up the low-end market, a strategy that’s led its Android to dominate mobile OS. Sure, Apple can still strut its trendy high-end wares. But the Chromebook is the nerdy kid everyone laughed at until she grew up and became Jessica Alba.
While it may seem like everyone you know has an iPhone—surprise!—Google’s Android is actually dominating global smartphone market share. As of Q3 2014 it had more than 83%. That’s four out of every five smartphones.
[Illustration: Tavis Coburn]