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Chromebook sales to triple by 2017 says new report

According to new research from Gartner, Chromebook sales will reach 5.2 million units in 2014 and will triple by 2017. Will it be enough to keep them afloat.

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Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

While they aren't well-received in every market, Chromebooks are seeing massive penetration in the education space. Recently, Google announced that schools were purchasing 1 million Chromebooks a quarter, and it seems that education will continue to drive the success of the Chrome OS machines.

A Gartner report, released on August 11, states that Chromebook sales will like reach 5.2 million units globally in 2014, a 79% increase from Chromebook sales in 2013. The report also noted that Chromebook sales will close to triple by 2017, with 14.4 million units sold; with most of this growth being driven by education adoption of Chromebooks. IDC data puts total, worldwide PC shipments at 315.1 million in 2013, with shipments projected at 295.9 million in 2014. Similar Gartner data puts worldwide PC shipments at 296.1 million in 2013, with projected shipments of 276.7 million in 2014.

Gartner estimates that 85% of the 2.9 million Chromebooks sold in 2013 were education purchases. Gartner also noted that 82% of the total Chromebook purchase in 2013 were made in North America, showing a high demand in North American schools.

Rajani Singh, a senior analyst at IDC, said that the growth of Chromebooks is concentrated in the US because Chromebooks are based entirely on internet access and not all regions have the infrastructure to support it. She labeled that the scope of growth "very limited" in emerging regions. There is some growth in Western Europe, but it pales in comparison to Chromebook growth in the US.

J.P. Gownder, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said that he is seeing an upward trend in Chromebook purchases as well, specifically in education.

"In the education sector, it is cost. But it's not cost in the straightforward sense," Gownder said. "It's the total cost of ownership of the devices."

Gownder said that he routinely speaks with education organizations that spend entire summers imaging devices for students. While there are some tools available now that are supposed to make this process easier, it can still be difficult. Chromebooks virtually eliminate that process and lessen the pain of getting the devices into the hands of the students.

In a move to address privacy concerns that have arisen over the use of web-based products in schools, Google also recently disabled its ability to collect data from student machines and disabled the potential to turn ads on for student devices.

The main driver of education penetration is the ease of device management, but they are still powerful from a student user perspective. Chromebooks can still work with some of the Intel education tools and can be used by multiple students.

"It's essentially a zero state machine," Gownder said. "So, all you have to do is sign in with your credentials, you have all of your links to the relevant curricula, and you also have all of your preferences pop up."

While adoption by businesses has been nowhere near that of education organizations, Durand said that "Chromebooks could open doors to the business market." Companies such as Auberge Resorts have started making the switch, but Chromebooks only work for organizations that are large enough to segment their workforce, as they typically will need to keep certain aspects (e.g. financial, design) on traditional machines.

For consumers, there is an argument for those who only have simple computing needs, or those who need a second or third machine at home. Gownder also mentioned that parents and families of students that use Chromebooks could potentially drive some consumer growth. He said the addressable market might be up to a quarter of the people in the US. That doesn't mean that penetration will reach all those people, but that might be the potential audience for Chromebooks.

The report also outlined the share each major vendor held of the worldwide Chromebook sales in 2013. As noted by the numbers below, Samsung dominated the competition.

  1. Samsung - 64.9%
  2. Acer - 21.4%
  3. HP - 6.8%
  4. Lenovo - 6.7%
  5. Dell - 0.3%

"Acer has been selling Chromebooks for quite some time, but actual momentum started when Samsung ventured into this market," Singh said.

She mentioned that, after Samsung joined the market in late 2012, they have seen stronger volumes of Chromebooks being sold per quarter.

According to the report, Chromebooks will remain a specialized application for the next five years; but, if vendors can push features that take advantage of the cloud-based infrastructure, that could drive more growth outside of education.

"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," Durand said.

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Conner Forrest is Enterprise Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.

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