The last year has been full of news on Chromebooks. Literally, full of news. A month does not pass where there is not news of a Chromebook either being announced, en route or finally becoming available to buy. While this does not sound like an especially important observation, it is. Chromebooks are very much in their ascendance and while this will likely be the expectation of many, in the broader scheme of things, the bigger market, the PC or computing market (which can be best thought of as the parent market to Chromebooks) is one which is seeing decline. Significant decline at that. So there in lies the context which highlights not just the impact that Chromebooks are having, but also the contradiction of a device growing so rapidly within a broader market which is declining equally as rapidly. To put the contrast into perspective, mobile devices are largely continuing to be a market which is rapidly growing and one which is expected to continue growing in both the near and far futures – thanks to the sustained rise of emerging markets, growing adoption rates and so on. Within that market though, tablets are proving to be the product line which is currently in a downward trajectory and this makes some sense as 'the tablet' is finding it difficult to establish itself as a purpose-driven product anymore. So wider point – mobile device market increasing, certain products like tablets declining. That is quite a normal state of affairs. In the PC and computing worlds, wider PC market declining, but the sub-market, Chromebooks, increasing. This essentially means that Chromebooks are a product which are going against the grain and in a climate that suggests they shouldn't be doing as well.
With that in mind, time for some background. 2015 has come to a close now and even though we are still in the earliest stages of 2016, some figures are beginning to come through which detail where we are at. First up, Gartner. Many readers will know Gartner as the company who provides us with a great deal of insight into mobile markets and distribution. As to be expected, they do the same for other platforms and devices too. According to Gartner's latest figures, PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2015 dropped by 8.3-percent when compared to the same quarter in 2014. For the year, the result was much the same with Gartner again, stating that the 2015 yearly figures showed roughly an 8-percent decrease from 2014. So the fourth quarter seems to be relatively the in line with the yearly total, suggesting a sustained and consistent level of decline quarter over quarter. So not so great.
IDC, another familiar name in these parts also this week released their figures for the PC market. For their fourth quarter expectations, the market fared much worse with a year over year quarterly drop of more than 10-percent. So while there are some debatable aspects on what the exact figures are, the one constant across both data sets, is the notable decline in the market overall. It is also worth pointing out that the top vendors listed for the quarter were Lenovo, HP, Dell, ASUS and Apple. Barring the last name on the list (who was the only company of the five to see growth in this sector), these are all very prominent Chromebook makers as well.
Which is understandable and brings us neatly onto Chromebooks. Although firm figures have yet to come through at the time of writing, even before the end of 2015, the status of Chromebooks as the darling of the PC world was very much in evidence. ABI research was one of those who at the start of December made it clear that although they expect the PC market to see a significant decline by the end of 2015, they expected Chromebooks to be the real winner within the industry. So much so, that ABI Research predict a "2016 sales surge" for Chromebooks. That is, on top of its already increasing market share and the supposed further decline of the PC market overall.
2016 aside though, 2015 was easily the most impressive year that Chromebooks has seen so far. In fact, it was the year in which the Chromebook began to establish itself as the go-to device for the education sector. The latest assurance of this came through only this week when it is was reported by various outlets that Chromebooks now occupy a 51-percent of the K-12 market. A sentiment we first heard about at the start of December. For those unfamiliar with the term K-12, this is a reference which is normally attributed to all classes of schooling in the U.S. prior to college. In the shortest of terms, kindergarten through to 12th grade, hence K-12. Back to the point and the latest data shows for the first time that Chromebooks now occupies a majority in the K-12 market. And not just a majority (as in more than other individually) but a majority of all devices, overall. A staple which had been previously reserved for Apple (remember they were the only manufacturer to still be noting growth in the PC market and the education sector is likely to be one of the contributing factors). However with Chromebooks, for the first time they are now establishing themselves as the new darling of the education sector and this is only likely to be another trend that is continued to be improved upon going forward.
This education benefit of Chromebooks, is of course, one which make sense from the educational institute perspective, as the cost of Chromebooks is one of their biggest selling points. While this makes sound financial sense, there is also the added benefit for the K-12 end-user, as Chromebooks are also designed to be easy-to-use devices. Win-win so to speak. When you take into consideration that Chromebooks were much closer to 1-percent back in 2012, to be hitting a 51-percent market dominance by the close of 2015 heavily suggests that Chromebooks have the ability to dominate the education sector for some years to come. And not only in the U.S. as recent reports are also noting that in terms of the Worldwide market, Chromebooks are gaining. Although, they currently reside at 19-percent of the overall Worldwide education market (as it is Windows who lead the Worldwide figures), this is largely thought to be the result of already running contracts that are in place. Needless to say, the attraction of low-cost, high-performing and easy-to-use devices like Chromebooks is going to be an element which appeals to all educational institutes wherever they are based. As a result, one would expect the worldwide level of Chromebook adoption to also be the next market which sees massive and significant increases over the next few years and as those Windows-based contracts come to an end.
What further seems to suggest that the Chromebook market has not even began to reach its peak yet, is the very fact that the education sector is one which is thought to be a propelling factor in the future adoption of devices in general. To put it bluntly, the devices which students are exposed to during their learning years, are likely to be devices that they continue to use post-schooling. In fact, this is partly what is believed to be a contributing factor to the Apple rise – with students being exposed to devices like iPads and then naturally continuing with those devices later on in life. Putting aside the notion of whether this is a form of conditioning and the rights and wrongs of such suggestions, this does highlight that the use of technology in the K-12 market is far more reaching than simply 'units in classrooms'.
Of course, while Chromebooks seem like the inevitable solution to many of the issues with PC devices, i.e. they are portable ('ultraportable' to use their more official market definition), cost effective and easy to navigate, they are only likely to continue to see this increase while they continue to offer distinguishing features. While Apple has made a name for itself as a premium product (and therefore premium priced), all Apple or Microsoft really have to do to fully contend with Chromebooks is to offer similar levels of products at similar prices. While it is great to see Chromebooks rising and really starting to stake their claim on the market, this is more of an early warning that the mass influx towards Chromebooks is not necessarily due to their unifying feature – Chrome OS, but more to do with the voids in the market they neatly fill. If Google and the team behind Chrome OS continue to improve and innovate Chrome OS and look to ensure that it is the go-to platform as well as the go-to product, then Chromebooks have the potential for a very long-lasting effect in the home PC, portable, business and education sectors.