Tech Talk: Has Chrome OS Saved The Consumer Laptop Industry?

It has often been postulated that smartphones have effectively killed the home computer but there's an argument to be made that the resulting innovations, especially as that concerns Chrome OS, have played a role in completely revitalizing that entire industry. Of course, that's not to say that there isn't any truth in those former claims. Prior to smartphones, sales in the industry were already predominantly flat with relatively low growth margins. After smartphones hit the market, sales continued along that same trajectory while Android and iOS device projections and sales skyrocketed. Moreover, it doesn't appear to be true at all that Chrome OS has saved the industry with consideration for the fact that sales of all PCs have been declining in recent years. However, its rapid growth as an operating system and its current market saturation imply the creation of a strong demand that isn't likely to fade anytime soon.

To better understand how trends in PCs and smartphones led to the advent of Chrome OS and Chromebooks, it's helpful to know why smartphones took off while home computers really didn't. On that front, there are several likely factors ranging from cost and portability to use, with each of those factors linked together. Although modern smartphones can be exceptionally expensive, computers are traditionally sold at an even higher cost. Meanwhile, users don't generally need the comparatively powerful hardware associated with PCs or laptops to meet their needs. Generally speaking, the average user isn't computing scientific equations, playing through gaming sessions, or anything more intensive than word processing and web browsing. Because of that, the added cost doesn't feel like a good value to most buyers. On the other hand, smartphones are a form of mobile communications device first. That use, in combination with their wide range of easy-to-use applications and portability, adds an inherent value not found in any other piece of technology.

In the space between those two branches of computer technologies, Google launched its first Chrome OS devices to market in 2011. At the time, at very least, they seemed to fill a role as the perfect stop-gap between laptops or PCs and mobile devices. Perhaps more importantly, despite Google's insistence that its two device families are wholly separate, the new laptop-like devices seemed to draw inspiration from what made Android so popular, to begin with. Unlike traditional computers of the time, Chromebooks were and still are ultra-portable, in addition to boasting the most commonly used features of a computer or laptop at a fraction of the cost. More recently, Chrome OS has even begun incorporating Android more directly with native applications directly from that other ecosystem.

The impact of that innovation on the computer industry was not necessarily immediate in every case but it has been profound. While Linux, Windows, and Mac continue to have a solid standing in terms of enterprise use, Chromebooks have begun to and continue to fill niches previously held by devices running those other operating systems. Chrome OS has even begun to really create its own niches and to fundamentally evolve some of those prior niches. Because of that, developing Chromebooks has helped to return some companies to profitability that may not have otherwise survived. A near perfect example of that can be found in the circumstances surrounding Acer, Inc. Despite struggling for years to both gain and maintain relevance, the company was not in a good position in the market - which was, in turn, causing further internal problems. After being one of the first partners to team up with Google for Chrome OS, Acer now stands firmly near the top in terms of Chromebook shipments. In fact, as of 2016, the company held the number 6 spot in terms of overall PC shipments.

Meanwhile, despite moderate declines and peaks in PC shipments as a whole, Chrome OS continues to gain ground in more markets. In some years, as many as three-quarters of all such shipments can be attributed to Chromebooks. A substantial portion of that is down to how well the systems and their cloud-based architecture serve the technology needs of the education sector. However, the intrinsic ideas encapsulated by Chrome OS also play an important role in their popularity. Namely, because the devices don't take themselves too seriously, the companies behind Chromebooks have been able to produce them with an enormous array of diversity to fit the personalities and needs of consumers. Whether a user is looking for a laptop replacement in the form of a convertible with a pressure sensitive pen, a box to connect to a display, or something more traditional, there are Chrome OS devices to fill most needs.

Of course, Chromebooks still won't play intensive PC games or accomplish some other tasks without some workarounds in place. Moreover, they also aren't the most affordable devices in their category anymore, having spurred responses from Microsoft and others. With that said, they do continue to innovate and change, breathing new life and direction into what may otherwise be a relatively static and stagnant industry. Whether or not that equates to saving the industry itself is a question that has yet to truly be answered, but it would be difficult to argue that Chrome OS hasn't changed things for the better.

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About the Author
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Daniel Golightly

Senior Staff Writer
Daniel has been writing for AndroidHeadlines since 2016. As a Senior Staff Writer for the site, Daniel specializes in reviewing a diverse range of technology products and covering topics related to Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Daniel holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering and has a background in Writing and Graphics Design that drives his passion for Android, Google products, the science behind the technology, and the direction it's heading. Contact him at [email protected]
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