back to article Chromebooks: the flop of 2011?

Google's Chromebook initiative appears to be a damp squib. Launched in May 2011, Chromebook sales are unlikely to exceed 30,000 units, despite backing from Acer and Samsung. So says DigiTimes, in a story about phone maker HTC wondering whether it should adopt Google's Chrome OS for internet gadgets of its own. Compare that …


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  1. dogged


    Well Tony, since you ask..

    I reckon they're not a bad idea, or rather, they wouldn't be if they sold for ab out 1/3rd their current price. What's remarkable about them is that in selling a cut-down, functionality-removed, control-limited experience with iron-fist control over the hardware, Google haven't yet been sued by Apple. Selling people overpriced crippled machines is their core business, after all.


    1. Citizen Kaned


      more expensive than a regular laptop with 1% of the functionality! where do i sign up?!?!

      1. dbin78

        They are not all more expensive; most are about the same price (one is lower) as a low-mid range laptop. Functionality? The same can be said for a tablet or smartphone, yet people have no problem spending as much, if not more, on those.

    2. Spearchucker Jones

      Good idea + execution fail = Chromebook

      They aren't a bad idea - the market they're going after is the wrong one, and the services they provide are wrong.

      These devices might be useful for a reception desk, or anything that requires basic computing like monitoring or report viewing. In other words, (limited) business, rather than consumer.

      We've just gone through the cloud hype. When the hype dies down the focus is going to shift back to control. My data is mine, and I want it where I can control access to it. Today, given the lack of guarantees, that means locally, on my HDD.

      Cloud storage IS hugely attractive, but that must come with a guarantee of control. Which mostly implies encrypting data before it goes to the cloud, and then granting access to others as needed.

      Google does none of this because Google's business is selling ads - which means Google wants control of your data so that it can target ads based on that data.

      Google are not the only ones, but they are the only ones to come up with a dumb execution model for the Chromebook. Larry and Sergey would do well to read Stuart Sutherland's Irrationality.

  2. Mage Silver badge

    Chrome books are Stupid unless < $50

    Connectivity isn't cheap enough, reliable enough or ubiquitous.

    Letting Google mind all your data? Stupidity.

    No real saving in cost. This has been the case for over 25 years that a computer that has a terminal application is a comparable price or cheaper than a full function graphics terminal.

    Not a new concept either. Simply a different protocol to the past (VT220, X-Windows, Citrix, VNC etc). If you have enough "grunt" to run a modern browser and all the stuff for remote docs and video you only need storage to have a decent real computer.

    A Traditional OS too complicated? Well iOS and Android are appliance type solutions and OS X is heading that way. MS Windows and Ubuntu is attempting to be like that hence newer versions more irritating to those needing "traditional" flexibility in configuration, desktop and applications.

    So called "Cloud Computing" (a new name for an old system, older than Microcomputers or PCs) is a complement not a replacement for either the "Appliance" type gadget (locked down tablet, like Archos, Apple, Kindle, Android) or full fat OS experience (GNU/Linux without a limited tablet interface, Windows XP and earlier, older versions of OSX, Solaris, various IBM stuff etc).

    If you *COULD* do a Chromebook for $50, probably a netbook could be $50. So it would be still doomed. ANY Computer or "appliance device" with decent Browser can do what a Chrome book does.

    1. dbin78


      FYI: You are not required to hold all your data with Google.

  3. zebthecat

    Utterly dumb idea

    Presumably Google thought it would do for Larry Ellison's Network PC idea what the iPad did for Bill Gates tablet PC.

    Unfortunately Apple got there first and anyone who wants a netbook form factor will, most likely, get a netbook.

  4. James 51

    I can understand the appeal but I won't be getting one. Too limited in what it can do. It has nothing that I can't get with netbook.

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
    Thumb Down

    I never saw the point in Chromebooks

    Tight cloud integration is fine, until you are abroad, and data roaming charges apply (arm+leg, generally), even assuming you have connectivity at all (try mountain tops in Indonesia, or Uganda, or even in many national parks in the US). I want something that works really well locally, without internet connectivity, AND has good cloud integration for when internet is available. Other offers at the same price point just make more sense.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    The way I see it is....

    lets say one of my clients says "If I buy one of these Chromebooks, can I still use Microsoft Office (the client as most people are still getting used to this office in the cloud thing" No. "Can my son play his games on it?" No. "Photoshop?" Nope. Already its not sounding like a great idea to them.

    Also, as good as the Chrome advert was, it wasn't actually selling Chromebooks. It was selling the idea of the cloud which is still a bizarre concept to many. I actually didn't realise you could buy Chromebooks until I read this story.

    But the perception I get from users is "Saving office documents to the internet, with stories floating around about Sony and such like getting hacked? Forget it.". Shame because I like Docs, I like it a lot. There's loads of great apps in the cloud, but as long as Apple keep plugging their overpriced tablets its going to be tough.

    1. dbin78


      - Microsoft Office would be replaced with Google Docs, Zoho, or other web-based options

      - Many games are available on it. Other games are available via websites and social networks.

      - As for Photoshop, there are many replacements available such as Aviary and Picnik

      - The cloud is just the internet, and can be describe as your C: drive being online. Simple.

      - As for hacking, scams, phishing, theft, hardware problems, etc.: You are much more likely to have them happen to you than a large company is.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Too late

    I remember first hearing about Chromebooks about two years ago. Back then, they seemed like a nifty idea. Had they come out with a $200 version on a paperweight 12" screen, they would have been a smash hit, hell, they may have even changed the rise of the iPad. Of course, manufacturers have no way of offsetting the costs; unlike Amazon they can't recoup their losses on digital sales, and Google would surely not offer a subsidy.

    By now, Chromebooks are (still) too limited and overpriced for what they should offer: quick cheap browsing. That battle has been won by the Kindle Fire and its kind. In about a year, small and light and cheap tablets are going to cover the market, and Chrome as an OS will have nowhere to go.

    Google really is the new Microsoft; betting on older technologies. Just look at the poor bastards, ten years ago everyone was mortally afraid whenever Microsoft would enter another market. Now, they are very busy bolting on three-year-old concepts to an outdated overbloated OS, just at the time when most of the tablet makers are getting ready to leave the market.

    By this time next year, Windows 8 should be ready to go, but there will be nothing available to run it on, except the usual lap/desktops, which makes it just a service pack for Windows 7.

    1. Craigness

      Old tech?

      @Buck, cloud computing is no more an old technology than icloud is, but apple didn't go as far as Google on the hardware side when they implemented their version (apple stuck with old technologies like local filesystems). The problem with Chromebook is not the age of the tech, it's what you can do with the hardware for the money.

    2. dbin78


      I agree about the price point, but they are getting closer. The Acer AC700-1099 is now $299. The Kindle Fire should not be compared to a Chromebook. They are different things. Even comparing a Kindle Fire to an iPad is horrible; two different target markets with different use cases.

      Google has strayed a bit, but is getting back on track with the change in leadership. Even still they are not Microsoft; what are these old technologies they are betting on?

  8. mikeyboosh

    Like a lot of things, it's surely a price thing. The cheapest are about 300 quid, and some are more. I've just got a i5 (sandybridge) etc laptop for £399 (ASUS K53E, impressed with it btw) which will run everything I through at it from an OS standpoint

    Is anyone surprised by this? Like dogged says, it will need a huge price cut to succeed

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    For a lightweight, always connected device which is useful for web browsing, email and being spied on, I have a smartphone. This could be replaced with a tablet if you like BIG. For real work I have PC in either desktop or laptop form factor with local storage and no requirement for a net connection. I'm struggling so see how using a Chromebook is of any use to anyone except Google.

  10. mark l 2 Silver badge

    They need to dump the x86 chippery on these and put in a ARM SOC as since they don't run any native apps there is no requirement for x86 compatibility. this will give them an increased battery life and should mean that they can be sold at a lower price

  11. Andrew Ducker

    I can't see the advantage over an Android laptop

    Which can do everything the Chrome laptop can, and also run Android apps.

    Also, why are the Chromebooks only up to 12". My current laptop is 15", and that's perfect for me. I'm not moving to something smaller.

    1. dbin78

      Android Laptop?

      I have not seen a Android Laptop on the market.

      Would you buy a tablet? Why if it is smaller? The Chromebook, like tablet, to many people is an additional device, not a replacement.

      The size is probably due to the limited manufacturer partners. Larger sizes may come out. Or, maybe not. There are not many tablets over about 10 inches. The size is a function of the purpose; a 22" Chromebook or tablet is not exactly mobile.

  12. Peter Gordon

    I don't understand

    what possible advantage it would have over my windows laptop?

    1. dbin78


      - More mobile

      - Faster boot

      - Easy setup

      - No saved data (cloud)

      What advantage does a tablet have?

      A Chromebook is just a different device, and not necessarily a replacement over a full laptop.

  13. Dave Murray


    Overpriced paper weights basically.

  14. crissgoodlookingguy

    To early to call in my opinion...

    Google's just getting started in this arena along with GoogleTV...

    I believe GoogleTV, ChromeOS(under 5 second boot) and Android will converge into Android 5.

  15. Greg J Preece

    I think they're useless, personally. Until our mobile net infrastructure greatly improves their usability is restricted by signal strength, which is always a bugger. Plus, it's Google. I just don't trust them to have access to every single keystroke on my machine.

  16. Peter Bond

    It's a price thing

    I spent some time with the Samsung Chromebook and though in someways deeply flawed as a devout believer in all things Google it had an appeal. At £150 I'd buy one tomorrow. At £450, forget it.

  17. Nerd

    Stack em high, sell em cheap

    If they were £100 I'd buy one

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The choice of the terribly performing atom CPU/gpu was a significant factor in it's failure. The chip was never powerful enough to provide the full web experience that was promised.multiple flash pages or JavaScript heavy sites bring the atom to a crawl and HD video is a hit or miss affair. The price was for me never a significant deterrent as the value of having a zero maintenance pc, though for others I can see why they would see it differrlently. The timing was undoubtedly port and the lack of significant hardware options has meant that the ecosystem has never looked strong. Google has not provided any sort of roadmap or vision for the future of the product so I don't see how they can expect anyone to take it seriously. This is huge shame as the concept is strong and I really do want one of these devices but the current offerings just aren't IP to scratch.

  19. PowerSurge

    Didn't even know they were on sale. They won't sell any if they don't tell people about them.

  20. Piro


    The price was too high, and the specs too mediocre.

    How about an Ice Cream Sandwich netbook? oh wait, that would be the ASUS Transformer Prime. Good show.

    1. Craigness
      Thumb Up

      Transformer Rump?

      A cut-down Transformer would be much preferable to Chromebook at that price bracket.

  21. Code Monkey


    I wasn't in the least bit tempted. Price is similar to a netbook for a machine that's useless offline. You're right about tablets, too. I still use my aging Acer Aspire One quite a lot but if it does give up the ghost I don't expect to replace it, especially with a laptop upgrade due next year.

  22. pepperminttea

    I have only just noticed that this Chromebook has a lower-case keyboard.

    I think they're a device with tremendous potential, but they appear very overpriced when compared to normal laptops.

    If your company or institution is buying into Google Apps the integration works beautifully. Pull any Chromebook off the self, turn it on from cold and you're away within 10 seconds. It's only through playing with one that I've truly appreciated it, but I wouldn't have parted with £350 of my own money to find that out, and therein lies part of the problem. A price point more in line with netbooks and cheaper tablets of say sub £200 might see people take a punt on them.

    (If you aren't using Google Apps etc then it pretty much is just a laptop-shaped web browser.)

    1. Paul Shirley

      "turn it on from cold and you're away within 10 seconds"

      That's the core of the problem: how much is losing 30-60sec of start up time worth?

      For most of us, *much less* than the value lost through reduced hardware functionality and limited software capability. I might be prepared for a modest premium to add quick cloud start up to a laptop/tablet/PC, not interested in paying full price to get the speed and not much else.

      1. pepperminttea

        As a standalone consumer product, especially at their current price point I don't believe it is worth it.

        In something like an educational environment where Google Apps is free and manageable the TCO starts to look interesting, not compelling, but interesting. For under £550/unit over three years (for the Chromebook and access to the management service for the Chromebooks) the machine just needs electricity and wifi.

        They certainly aren't all round laptop/PC replacements, but for a defined use they are excellent. I wouldn't buy them for what they can't do. Is there another device that can do what the Chromebook can do better than the Chromebook - i.e. central management, sub 10 second boot, web browsing, all day on a single battery charge at all or at the Chromebook's price point?

        (Part of me is suspicious that it isn't easier to manage Android tablets as if it were then something like an Asus Transformer would make the Chromebook completely obsolete.)

        I'm just hoping Samsung have a warehouse full of them that they want to knock out at a low price after Christmas.

  23. dotdavid


    I could see them fitting two niches, both of which they don't fit very well.

    1) Techie users who want a second PC - Netbooks are cheaper and more functional.

    2) Non-techie users who want a primary PC that's no-hassle. For a small subset of these it'll work great right up until they go to Dixons and buy Microsoft Office, a video game for the kids or whatever piece of Windows software and it Doesn't Work.

    No, unless these are cheap almost-disposable internet thingies (as opposed to the slightly-more-expensive-than-a-netbook price bracket they currently occupy) I can't see the point.

    That said I couldn't really see the point of Tablets either and look what's happened with those.

  24. Luna Tick

    LOL, those things are still around?

    I never really understood the point of them. I put Google's OS attempts on the same plane as Microsoft's search adventures. Too little, too late and way off the mark.

    To me it's not even about the price, I wouldn't get one even if it was $50 'cause if that was so the hardware would be crap and useless. If you want to exist in Web realm, there's Android/Apple/soon Win8 tablets; pricier - sure, but they're neat and light and mostly right on as far as features/capabilities/utility. For professionals, I don't know anyone that uses their laptops simply to store documents; there's always one or two at least, "special" apps that they use for work.

    And even Google's aspirations on creating a unified, maintenance free, up-to-date OS would fall flat eventually if Android is any indication of things to come. The fragmentation is horrendous so from the development standpoint it is a one big patch-happy cock-up. Similar to Linux; great idea, great dev base and all that but Jesus tap-dancing Christ, 2 million versions, distributions, compile-this, aptget-that and most just give up on that idea well before they get started.

    And then, if you're hell bent on using Google Apps (really?) why not just get a lappy of your choice and use them. I bought my 11-yo a 10" Asus netbook for 350 bucks. The device is fantastic, does everything that she needs and then some, so why the hell would I spend 500 on a glorified web browser. And for that matter, why would I spend anything on a glorified web browser?

    If Google did not already have the Android platform and the world was 100% covered with affordable, high-speed internet connectivity this thing could maybe (maybe) have some legs to stand on. As it is, it's redundant at best and just plain stupid more likely.

  25. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Portal device

    ChromeBooks are probably ideal for casual web surfing, media viewing and emailing - digital picture frames on steroids - but need to have a low price.

    A same or lower price laptop, netbook, tablet, even mobile phone or rooted e-book reader, offers the same or more that a ChromeBook does while risking data to the cloud and potential connectivity issues is seen as a disadvantage by many techies who also reject being 'locked into Google' and being exploited through that.

    I would guess non-techies probably don't see the point or don't understand them seeing as there's been no great marketing push in that direction. The fact I've never seen a physical ChromeBook shows just what little market penetration they have.

    Two things would convince me to buy one immediately; extremely low price (£20) or not being tied to Google.

  26. Thomas Whipp


    I tried to put ChromeOS onto a netbook for my mum a few weeks ago - as a concept it seemed ideal, all she really wanted was to be able to view the web and manage a few photos. However up until that point I thought it was a distribution - I then found out that its only really maintained as a source tree and that manufacturers are expected to custom build it for each device (i.e. sort out the drivers, etc...) this meant that I couldn't quickly install it and get it working with wireless. Ended up putting Ubuntu 11.10 on instead which worked out of the box and is great for what my mum wants (for reference I'm not generally a Linux person - I've used it plenty of times in the past and compiled the odd kernel but hadn't installed it in at least 5 years, it was purely because it was the most cut down and simple interface I could quickly load onto the hardware.

    Anyway back to the point - I appreciate the idea was for Chromebooks, but as its a different concept I do think they could have put some effort into getting people used to the idea by allowing old hardware to be recycled quickly. This would generate the cost advantage which could then lead to familurarity and then down the line people saying "I want a chromebook" I just don't see this happening from a standing start with new hardware thats as expensive as the other options.

  27. dpadams

    One word: JavaStation

  28. Efros

    Coulda been a contender

    If the price had been realistic, they would have nailed the educational market. The lease model with included hardware support and restrictions on functionality is exactly what the education market needs, unfortunately the price for the chromebooks makes them an unattractive alternative to the white shiny Pomme laptops.

  29. dbin78

    Love It

    First off, the Chromebook should not be set side by side with the iPad, Kindle Fire, a laptop, or desktop. Those four items should not be compared to each other or compared to the Chromebook. They are all different devices with different uses for different people.

    Overall, for me, it is a awesome device for browsing, blogging, managing your cloud files, and other things like that.

    I love Chrome OS and my Chromebook; it does everything I need. The only true reason I have a Windows computer is because I work from home for my day job and the remote tools I need to use are not compatible with a Chromebook. I am not saying there is not a need for a full powered PC; there sure is for many things. Today, the average user can just buy a new Chromebook every year or two and have no need to tweak or install software and hardware.

    The Cr-48 introduced me to Chrome OS and I just recently bought a new Chromebook. When my the Acer came I fired it up, logged in, and I was done. All my settings, apps, and history where there. I was up and running in about two minutes. The price point was the hiccup and Google is working on it with the manufacturers s evident by the recent reductions.

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  31. prettejohn
    Thumb Up

    Chromebooks are great for schools

    Actually Chromebooks are a perfect fit for the oft overlooked education market by all the technocratri. 9 hours of battery life which means that they don't have to be tethered between lessons. 10 second from cold boot time (unlike the 2 minute boot up and login, keyboard bashing, pen USB jabbing that we have with the Microsoft option) Frequently updated OTA, no virus or security issues and works seamlessly with Google Apps which is what an increasingly large number of both Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education establishments are turning to due to the huge cost savings over the Microsoft solution and the fact that it removes the tech issues of hosting your own servers in a school environment.

    My only gripe is the price which is still too high even at the £15 a month rental option with instant return to base backup over three years. They need to be sub £200 before they really attractive to cash strapped schools. It really bugs me to see schools buying iPads for their entire student body. Hugely expensive and have you ever tried writing an essay on an iPad. They quickly become excuses for kids to download a range of games apps. A touch screen Chromebook a la Asus Transformer is where it could get really interesting.

  32. uhuznaa


    Google is totally wrong with targeting this thing at mobile users. The "thin client" idea certainly has some appeal especially for business, so they should support really cheap and limited all-in-one machines (17" or 19" screen with integrated everything, based on low-power Intel or even better ARM CPUs) for typical low-end business desktop use.

    You get a browser, email, contacts, calendaring, docs, spreadsheets etc. basically with no setup (just log into your Google account and that's it), no further costs and minimal administration effort. No backups needed, no handling of local storage, no installing, fixing and updating local software, no restore when the hardware fails, no complex server systems and networks for roaming accounts... Sit down at a desk, log in, work. Hardware breaks? Plonk down a fresh thingy on the desk, log in, continue working.

    You're guaranteed to have reliable and fast network connections in a office anyway and not being able to install software and not having local storage is almost a feature here. Admins all around the world are slaving to chop down perfectly capable PCs to not much more than Chromebooks are anyway. What a waste of time.

    But as a notebook or netbook replacement for mobile use this is totally a failure for more than just one reason. Casual users WANT to install software and games. They don't have always reliable and fast networks on the road. They're not just working with a limited set of tasks. Clerks do that.

    As always Google may have good engineering but a lousy strategy. Do they have a Thinking Department there? Doesn't look like that, really.

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