back to article Chromebook sales in recession: Market saturation blamed as shipments collapse more than 63% in Q4

Chromebook shipments collapsed in calendar Q4 as the channel – with an eye on market saturation – ordered in lower volumes and PC makers moved available components to higher-margin builds running on Windows. Unit sales into distributors and retailers plunged 63.6 per cent globally to 4.8 million Chromebooks, says IDC. This is …

  1. dipole

    I bought a 15" one of these for peanuts. bloody brilliant little thing once you accept that Google already knows yours deepest personal secrets even before you ever touched a Chromebook.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      I've not owned one but a friend has several that he uses as Linux machines (you can just keystroke from ChromeOS into the Linux) and he reckons they linux is safe from googly eyes - and he can run pretty much anything he likes on it.

      1. Lon24 Silver badge

        Yes - I ran Kubuntu as a chroot for many years until Google dropped support on ChromeOS. Six years if you are lucky but more likely around four or less if you buy the discounted models. After that you suffer from an ancient kernel and device drivers with no updating or security fixes with all the issues that brings.

        The hardware (Samsung) was great and it would have been really nice to have converted it to run a preferred Linux distribution natively. But for most Chromebook models the BIOS is effectively locked. So now it's landfill whilst it's Thinkpad peer group soldier on.

        IMHO it's worth paying the windows tax (or better - get a s/h win machine) if you want a cheap Linux notebook. Low spec budget Win PCs run Windows so badly that they often get dumped on fleabay at exciting prices. And it's rather green to give them a second more useful life.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Yes, and given I don't use Google services, where possible, in fact, I think I only still use GMail for a spam account for registering unimportant services and YouTube and I block most of the Google tracking domains, here in the house, a Chromebook is not really on my wish list.

      If you are already a Google services user, it isn't a bad choice. If you like your freedom, not so much. This is also the reason I finally dumped my Android phone, it was making too many compromises to get most Google services and tracking off or disabled on the device.

      Given that I use very few web applications and most stuff is still local, I'll pass. In fact, ChromeOS (and now Android) are the only major operating systems not represented in my kit. (Various Raspis, a Linux running Ryzen desktop and an old Vaio, a Windows laptop and a Mac mini).

      Microsoft is slowly becoming as bad, when it comes to tracking and the shenanigans with the Windows 11 are making me less and less enamoured with them. The Ryzen was a Windows 10 PC until the summer, when it was rebuilt with Linux.

  2. HildyJ Silver badge
    Boffin

    Unsustainable

    Chromebooks made the most sense for the education market which doesn't buy equipment in the 4th quarter (other than replacements). I strongly suspect that 2020's 4th quarter boom was almost all related to distance learning under Covid. A better analysis would have included, at least 2019's and possibly 2018's 4th quarter.

    Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft's Surface for Education push has any effect on Chromebooks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unsustainable

      Yeah, we in education hear that pretty often. Chromebooks making sense in education. It doesn't really hold up outside the the "we can't afford to put anything in the students hands" part of the problem.

      We look at them every couple of years. Most of the cheap ones should be shipped straight to e-waste and by the time you get to the price point the better ones are at, you get into striking distance of a cheap laptop or a mid range tablet.

      That's just the money part though. The bigger issues is that with Chromebooks you end up teaching to the tools. That is to say your teachers have to plan their lessons around the devices they have. That is true Chromebooks aside, but the more general purpose the devices are the more the teacher can do with them. Also the more the students can do with the skills they learn. It also comes in handy when you need to go to remote learning on three days notice.

      We had access to decent gear, and we saw it coming. Much bigger fish then us got run over in the middle of the street because their chromebook fleets couldn't run the curriculum and were underspecced for desktop replacement or heavy videoconferencing. Tiny screens and trash webcams that saved all of 2-3 dollars to the manufacturer meant the devices face planted in remote learning.

      1. Jim Birch

        Re: Unsustainable

        Buy cheap, get cheap. Chromebooks, Windows, whatever. We can't blame the existence of Chromebooks for sloppy purchasing decisions. If ChromeOS didn't exist, the same or worse Windows hardware purchases would have been made. There's always opportunity costs and budget limits.

        Chromebooks' limited functionality cuts both ways. Organisations like mine that are hooked into Windows devote a lot of resources on what is called security and management but could also be seen as simply downgrading the open unused functionality of their Windows fleet down to near Chromebook levels. Top down, it's a bit weird.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All electronics are future garbage, but these things seemed like they had a 2 year life 5 years ago. I have had a few conversations with people who rolled out Chromebooks pre-pandemic, and the square peg in a round hole problem is still a problem no matter how cheap the devices are.

    Those guys bought a lot of laptops for people that needed something that could do more that Zoom

  4. Helstrom

    I've not used a chromebook so this statement is absolutely coming from a place of ignorance: My understanding is that the entire appeal of these devices is that they're meant to be the thinnest of thin clients as everything runs in the cloud. To me this seems to imply that these devices don't need to be refreshed regularly since they don't actually need to do much. Wouldn't it therefore follow that at some point everyone who wants one will have one and there's no real need to upgrade?

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      To get around this, two methods have been used. First, Google has decided to let security updates expire on specific dates, not due to any technical limitation. All Chromebooks have a support death date on manufacture. Second, they have increased the resource requirements of the software that runs on the devices. When they were new, the theory was that you could put a budget processor and 16 GB flash chip into the devices because, as long as you had sufficient RAM, everything would run fine on the remote server. That's no longer the case. Modern Chromebooks frequently have similar processors to modern Windows laptops and storage too has increased. The low-spec models have been rendered obsolete long ago. This also has the effect that the prices of Chromebooks are also comparable with low-to-mid range Windows laptops again.

      1. Chz

        I have to disagree. The 2GB/16GB (RAM/storage) models are long gone, and from personal experience with them an Atom processor and 4GB of RAM is perfectly adequate for all primary and most secondary school needs. Does the occasional thing run slowly? Of course. But that's an application problem - the same thing would run slowly on a better specced, twice the price Windows machine as well.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          I can't say from experience, however, I can make two points. First, if they were so good, there wouldn't be so much demand for 11th-series I5 and sometimes I7 processors, usually with 8/16GB of RAM in Chromebooks, and yet every manufacturer has several of those. I would understand the more expensive ones with a better screen, but when they share all the same details with other laptops from the same manufacturers, it makes less sense.

          Second, I have used Atom/4GB laptops before, running Linux and Windows, and they're fine. They're fine as long as you are aware of the limitations and don't try to run too many things simultaneously. I wouldn't recommend people buy them, but they can run browsers, mail clients, office programs, and plenty of other stuff on them without having problems provided they don't do what a lot of people like to do and have many of them open simultaneously. I'm expecting therefore that your similarly-spec Chromebook is also fine as long as you don't open too many tabs. Or in other words, it's just as fine as the other systems that could run on the hardware while doing less. The initial claim was that Chrome OS would, in return for not doing anything when offline, enable a world of more efficient machines. They would cost less and run for a lot longer on battery. Because they lied, we just have a different operating system with efficiency similar to the ones we already had, but some new limitations.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      One of the main selling points of thin clients in general is that you don't need to refresh them very often. This has often proved to be wrong. Many customers I deal with have bought thin clients for RDP or ICA with a plan for many years of use. They then discover that the protocols move on rapidly and offload a lot more work to the client which turns out not to be up to it due to weak processor, not enough RAM, crappy graphics system, etc.

      I haven't recommended thin clients since the Wyse 1200LE went end of life.

  5. Dinanziame Silver badge

    I think a lot of the drop has to do with how incredible the jump was last year when everybody was finding work from home solutions. 2020 and 2021 are going to be outliers for almost all metrics...

  6. karlkarl Silver badge

    How did chromebooks ever gain market share? Don't people need to do more on a computer than just faff about on web pages?

    (Asking for a friend. Because he only has a tablet and found the touchscreen too awkward to type out this question ;)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Price.

      Schools, especially, cheaped out: Didn't want iPads and the cost of administration of windows was too high.

      So, they bought Chromebooks. Easily manageable, easy to use, stuff in the cloud, all good.

      BUT.....

      I was at WWDC around 2018.... Was stood in a line waiting to go into a session and got talking to a teacher. he told me that he refreshed his school iPads every year. "How on earth do you afford to do that?!" I gasped? Turns out, the residuals on year old iPads are so good that the amount they actually spend every year is much less than sweating the iPads for x years...

      And thereby lies the issue... My original iPad Pro Gargantua was released in 2015 and is still getting software updates 7 years later. From a security perspective, this is great. If the Chromebooks are obsolete the second they get into the hands of the user, well.....

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Don't people need to do more...

      The laptop I'm using at this moment is probably inferior to currrent Chromebooks but it's quite adequate for routine software development, circuit design, communications, administration and even some light video editing. However, it struggles once you start opening a lot of web browser tabs.

      I don't have a Chromebook, but I suspect this may be the flaw: running the front end of your applications in JavaScript on top of a complicated and unwieldy document object model that wasn't really designed for UIs means that in reality you need better hardware than if you're primarily running your applications natively. I suspect the lower margins for Chromebooks are inevitable because of this.

      And that's before you start weighing the limitations and inflexibility against whatever the advantages are supposed to be.

    3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      I have a Dell convertible Chromebook - it can look like a laptop or, if I fold the screen right over, it becomes a rather thick tablet. It's useless for creating stuff (Google docs being a joke) but as a device for simple consuming - browsing the web, watching videos, listening to music - it's unbeatable. Dead simple, rarely has problems, huge battery life.

    4. cuna

      They aren't just a Web browser, you also get Linux and Android containers so you can run Linux and Android software. They both integrate well with the overall OS too.

      The higher spec ones are pretty decent little machines that will feel familiar to any Debian user should feel familiar with.

      Personally, I mostly use the Linux side of ChromeOS.

  7. werdsmith Silver badge

    I have a Toshiba CB30, Chromebook2, I got it used in 2015, I wanted it for Crouton linux and its 1920x1080 display, and with its (good for the time) 7 hour battery life.

    The Chromebook part comes up with a "not supported" warning now and implores me to buy a newer one. But the Linux bit is just fine and it's still in regular use.

  8. FuzzyTheBear
    Mushroom

    Doing it reverse ?

    Dunno about you guys but instead of looking at a model / price im looking at specs. Make up a list of needs , and tasks , then check components that allow those tasks be done and make it happen. Price is not the driver. Real need/job is first.

    Buying a machine because of cost is out the door for a long time. Never failed to do it's job. I get what i need and not a price point.

    Second .. whenever something says Google on it , i see a data gathering device for Google. The computer and what it actually does is totally obscured by the fact that everything that will be done will be recorded / analysed / chopped and diced by Google.

    Third is confidence in the manufacturers. When Google is concerned/involved my first thought is not if the machine is spiked full of backdoors , but how many of them have been planted there for the convenience of authorities and their convenience.

    Chromebooks have always smelled bad in many regards. To me , i don't think i could have ANY confidence in them.

    I look the other way , they simply do not exist.

    In the end it's not simply a matter of trust , or money.. it's also a matter of gear that does the job well.

  9. Duffaboy
    Facepalm

    I am sure some consumers have no idea what they are buying.

    Your average non-tech purchaser will look at the price first and make their buying decision on that, `not realising until later that the Chrome book will not exactly do what they though it would.

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