Global Market Insights have released a report discussing the current and near future outlook for the Chromebook platform, which is expects to exceed 17 million units by 2023. This growth is from just 5.3 million in 2014 and in 2016, we've already seen the Chromebook outsell the Apple MacBook (2 million versus 1.7 million). Chromebooks are becoming more powerful and more functional thanks to upgraded internal hardware and improvements at the Google Chrome OS side of things – the platform is receiving the ability to access Android applications via the Google Play Store, which is likely to dramatically increase the functionality of the platform going forward.
The education sector has been one of the driving forces behind the rise of the Chromebook: school IT departments have selected the Google Chromebook as the computer of choice on account of the low cost of the hardware, the number of hardware partners building models (we've seen Chromebooks from Acer, Dell, Google, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Toshiba) and the availability of device management software. Looking back at 2014, Global Market Insights estimates that 84% of global Chromebooks sales were into the North American market and of these, 60% were to education institutions. Of the balance, business only received 1.1% and consumers bought the remaining 38.6%.
However, in 2016, Google is a different business with different objectives. One of the company's main points of focus is the enterprise and cloud computing market, where the company is locked in competition with Microsoft and Amazon to provide cloud computing services. As part of this, we've seen Google increase efforts into providing corporate services and of course, the Chromebook neatly drops into this ecosystem. Chromebooks tap into Google's existing cloud computing infrastructure and require very little in the way of set up or maintenance. And of course, most Chromebook models are relatively inexpensive: the cost in hardware alone could save a small business thousands of dollars.
Google still has some work to do around raising awareness of how the Chromebook and Chrome OS platforms works: Microsoft has made much of the fact that the Chromebook is tied to the cloud, but in 2016 the Chromebook platform does not need to be connected in order to be productive. Things will improve here as more Android applications become available for the platform, but Google still needs to raise awareness of the functionality and limitations of the platform. However, the fundamentals are in place: today's students may buy their own Chromebook or even Chromebox computers for the home in order to continue where they left off at the end of their studies. Manufacturers have and continue to develop new devices with touchscreens and convertible chassis designs: the Chromebook has likely stolen sales from tablets as the platform is more productive. Adding Android app compatibility is likely to be a shot in the arm for the platform and with the auxiliary support of Google's other business divisions, GMI's forecast of an annual 17 million units sold by 2023 could be conservative.