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By and large, personal computing devices are now considered a mature market. Desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphone sales are level, which usually indicates that products are being replaced as they fail or become obsolete, but are attracting few new customers. One of the more notable exceptions to that generality has been the growth of Chromebooks, especially so in the last few years.
Google first announced the Chrome OS, an operating system based on Linux, in 2009. The first Chromebooks were marketed in 2011 and captured less than 1% of the academic market in 2012. Chromebooks’ share of the US K-12 education market surged to 59% by 2017, while Apple’s share plunged from 52% to 19%, and Microsoft’s share tumbled from 43% to 22%.
Chromebooks became popular quickly because they’re sturdy, inexpensive (prices start under $200), secure by design, provide full access to Google’s G-Suite software, connect seamlessly via Wi-Fi with Google’s cloud services, and are automatically updated every two to three weeks. They’re wicked fast too – many can boot up in just 10 seconds! Newer Chromebooks can now access 2.7 million Android apps from Google Play, Linux apps and even some Windows apps via an Android app called Crossover. The ability to run Linux and Windows 10 on premium Chromebooks is anticipated in one to two years. Samsung recently announced the Samsung Chromebook Plus (LTE), joining a small but rapidly growing cadre of always connected devices that can connect with both local Wi-Fi or nearby cellular towers.
Chromebooks aren’t just for kids anymore. Matriculating college students who had used Chrome OS in high school and families accustomed to the robustness Chrome OS offers are looking for machines that are more attractive, use better materials, and are a bit faster and more powerful. About 30% of businesses are currently issuing Chromebooks to at least some of their employees. Premium Chromebooks, a category initiated in 2018, tend to be about the size of ultrabooks, with similar slim design features and touch screens (including 2-in-1 hybrids), but they’re far more budget-friendly than an ultrabook or even an average laptop. Newer Chromebooks are likely to have a 10 to 12-hour battery life, much better than most PC laptops.
If you’ve ever used the Google Chrome browser, Chrome OS will feel instantly familiar. Essentially, all your day-to-day computing happens through the browser. Chromebooks rely on a constant connection to the internet, especially for saving content; local storage space is often limited. You can certainly browse the web, email, stream videos, and edit spreadsheets or documents. All your apps must come from the Google Play store or Google Web Apps store. Power users may not always find suitable replacements for their preferred advanced programs.
If you primarily use your computer for doing casual things like checking email, shopping, gathering information, reading eBooks or watching movies, take a look at Chromebooks in your local tech store – even Walmart sells them. You may just decide that it’s all you really need!