Laptops

Three things Chromebooks need to fix to win buyers

Google's Chromebooks showed some early sales momentum among consumers, but in order to capture business users and consumers in the long term, three things will have to be fixed.

Google Chromebooks finally arrived this spring and initial sales to consumers have been respectable but Google's Chromebook subscription plan for businesses has yet to catch on. I spent a lot of time with Google's CR-48 prototype when it was first released and then with Samsung's Series 5 Chromebook more recently. While Chromebooks have the potential to win corporate customers, I still think three things need to happen before Chromebooks will attract consumers and businesses in large numbers.

1. Fix Web incompatibilities

The biggest disappointment I had in dealing with Chromebooks was that a surprising number of Web sites simply don't load correctly. Some of this has to do with the Google Chrome browser in general. There are sites that just don't work very well in Chrome. Most of this is due to the sites not complying with Web standards (designing for IE) or to incompatibility issues with plug-ins. Much of this is beyond Google's control, but that doesn't help much when a site you need to access to do your job doesn't work. That said, there are also Web sites that should work in Chromebooks but inexplicable don't. For example, Google Analytics doesn't load correctly (you can't change the date range to view, for example). This is bizarre, since Analytics works just fine in Chrome on Windows and Mac. Google needs to work on fixes and workarounds to make more sites accessible on Chromebooks, since the Web is their primary feature.

2. Implement offline access

The other big functionality problem with Chromebooks is that you have to be online at all times in order to use them. If your connection gets spotty or you are somewhere that doesn't have a good connection (or access is too expensive), then you're stuck and the Chromebook is completely worthless. Google has promised that offline support is coming, at least for stuff like Google Apps and Google Docs (and there are reports that it's in testing), but we're still waiting. Google is also going to need to make an effort to get important third party developers on the bandwagon to make their sites available in offline mode in Chrome.

3. Drop the price tag

Even if Google fixes the page loading and offline problems, Chromebooks will still need one big change to make them a lot more attractive to buyers: They've got to get cheaper. The Samsung Series 5 is $430 (Wi-Fi) or $500 (3G) and the Acer Chromebook is $350. That's still too much to spend for an underpowered machine that doesn't do anything but surf the Web. At $200-$300, Chromebooks would be a lot more interesting. Businesses can lease Chromebooks for $28/month for three years, which includes some basic support and service. That gives each machine a total cost of over $1000 for the lease period. I think we'll see just as many (if not more) businesses interested in buying these at two hundred dollars a pop and simply replacing them if they fail. Google and its hardware partners still need to get the price right on Chromebooks, and recent indications are that they may actually raise the price of Chromebooks in the next iteration. That would be a big mistake.

More reading on Chromebooks

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

17 comments
mjc5
mjc5

Somehow, some way, Google has fallen into the mistaken notion that Everyone is always on line 100 percent of the time. It's their own version of binocular vision. And yet, I and a lot of other people will never ever even consider a device that has to be connected. Call us troglodytes, but I want to store my own files, I want to have my programs operating at all times. I don't even consider that they actually function.

Ronim
Ronim

The main value of ChromeOS is security. No malware or virus. The second value is no maintenance like defrag, backup or software updates. I want a small, fast ChromeBox desktop. It should be very inexpensive since it has no screen, keyboard or battery. I want to attach a 24" monitor and full size keyboard and mouse. I don't think I am alone I think it would sell millions of units.

jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376

I think this article brings up the handicaps of Google Chromebooks. But I am not sure Google will fix a couple of them. It talks about offline access but this is what Google Chromebook is not about. Google talks about this. Chrome browser is what you get with Chromebooks. I don't see Google allowing Firefox to be on a Chromebook. Not even sure Mozilla would want that? As for price, I am sure with the lack of sales the prices will fall as the Chromebooks fall in sales. I don't ever see business embracing this model of computing. Especially with Google.

sperry532
sperry532

... the Chromebook is what we used to call a "Dumb Terminal". If the terminal wasn't connected to the mainframe, it was effectively a paperweight. If the Chromebook isn't connected to the Web, it is only useful as a doorstop... maybe... if the door isn't too big or heavy. Nah, a netbook with wi-fi is cheaper and more useful to me.

Azathoth
Azathoth

This is really the number one problem. And, like others have implied, the simple fix is to buy a notebook, or a netbook, and forget that the Chromebook scam ever existed. The fact that these toys cost as much or more than notebooks and way more than some netbooks, and that some people have paid that price, blows my mind.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Remove the Chrome OS. It will fail.

adornoe
adornoe

and anybody that thinks that purchasing a Chromebook is a good idea, is a fool. Take that money and invest it in something that is really useful, like a notebook PC that can do everything Chromebooks will do, and a whole lot more. At the end of the day, most consumers will still have money left over to invest in useful software to complement that laptop/notebook.

mhenwood
mhenwood

The chromebook I have tested had no USB ports. This would seem to me to be critical to most users.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The 'Internet only' appliance has crashed and burned in the market at least three times in the last dozen or so years

bushrek
bushrek

I am a huge fan of Google Chrome and Chromium web browsers, I use both of them all the time! I wouldn't, on the other hand, buy a "Dumb Terminal" for the price of a decent netbook. My daughter has an Acer netbook with 250 GB HDD, 1GB RAM (upgradeable), WiFi, Web Cam, Win7 OS (which I can dual boot Ubuntu with), all for the low price of $310. Come on Google! Dumb Terminals are (at the most) $200-$250!

jsaubert
jsaubert

... just make them more useful than a glorified thin client.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

your reputation as an alleged 'Google fanboy'. :D

Ronim
Ronim

Times have changed, technology has changed, the time is right for ChromeOS. I do most of my serious web surfing at home where I have high speed internet. I do banking, stock trading, shopping, etc. When I am mobile I use my Android phone and tablet, both Verizon 4G. At home I also have a Core i7, Win 7 desktop that I use off line for photo and video editing and software development. It only goes on-line for Win updates and to upload to the cloud.

Gerbilferrit
Gerbilferrit

Jason, to say Microsoft is doing nothing interesting in the comments for the last blog post or so you wrote, yet you're here writing about stuff that was news for google months ago - infact reiterating the bleeding obvious about chromebooks. Meanwhile the dev community is on tenderhooks over Windows 8 and what it means for them and the future of Windows as we know it, yet the Build event has sold out despite a "dearth of details". hmm. maybe you're not man enough these days to write about microsoft right now??? - that's just meant as a gentle poke in the ribs by the way to coerce some opinion out of you given the rose tinted haze you seem to see apple and google within, because i would actually be interested in hearing your opinion given your side of the fence these days.

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