Web traffic generated by Google Chromebooks suggests that the low-priced laptops have failed to catch on with consumers, but those numbers may not tell the whole story about the laptop’s popularity.
Web traffic watcher NetMarketShare reports that during the first week of monitoring Chromebook activity on the Web, the clamshell devices barely appeared on the service’s radar.
During that period, only 0.02 percent of Web traffic came from Chromebooks. That suggests there aren’t a lot of the devices out there, and Google’s grand experiment with an always-on, always-connected laptop may be a bust.
What’s more, Chromebook’s numbers compared to a similar metric for the much-maligned Windows are an eye opener.
“To put things in perspective, as of April 2013 all Chromebooks combined have managed to achieve 7/10 of one percent of the usage of Windows 8 PCs worldwide,” pointed out Ed Bott in ZDNet.
Keep in mind that the Chromebook has been on the market for two years, while Windows 8 has only been out for six months or so.
However, Google showed it was aware of the Chromebook’s deficiencies, as it addressed some of the glaring problems found in the initial models of the device in the most recent crop of the computers.
That may be changing the fortunes of the platform. “In terms of sales volume, we have been extremely impressed with how the new Chromebooks are doing at retail,” said Stephen Baker, an industry analyst with the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y.
He added that Chromebooks represent more than 20 percent of clamshell notebook sales under $300.
While much has been made of tablet computers eating into PC sales, the Chromebook may be eating into tablet sales. “We think that Chromebooks are just as competitive with low-cost Android tablets as they are with low-cost Windows clamshell PCs,” Baker observed.
“It’s selling at a pretty decent rate for a product that retailers have been reluctant to support,“ he said. “We’re pretty impressed with how well it’s done.”
Google miscalculated when it introduced the Chromebook, according to Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif.
“Google thought people would go for cheap so they reinvented the netbook and did a worse job of it than the original makers of the netbooks did,” Enderle told PCWorld.
A device that connected to the Internet and did little else didn’t appeal to consumers. “People aren’t willing to pay 350 bucks for something that just connects to the Internet,” Enderle said.
Enderle said that the Chromebook came out of the gate as a wounded duck.
“For a little more money, you could get a notebook that had a lot more functionality,“ he said. “So the Chromebook came across as crippled. People won’t buy crippled products at any price.”
“At some point we may all live on the Web and have Web-only connected devices, but we’re not there,” Enderle added.
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John Mello writes on technology and cyber security for a number of online publications and is former managing editor of the Boston Business Journal and Boston Phoenix. Disclosure: He also writes for Hewlett-Packad's marketing website TechBeacon.