Google’s Chrome Web browser is generating heady excitement these days, particularly after the search and Web services giant Sept. 15 put Chrome 3.0 into stable release.
Net Applications said Chrome cultivated 2.84 percent worldwide market share through August, hardly burning up the browser market versus Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.
But that’s nearly 3 percent through one year of life, which is why Chrome Engineering Director Linus Upson told Reuters recently that he would be “exceptionally disappointed” if Chrome didn’t command 10 percent of the browser market after three years. Check back in September 2011.
The question is whether Upson’s wishful estimate is, well, so wishful. Sony is currently offering Chrome as an alternative to IE on Vaio computers, so doesn’t it stand to reason that Google may realize more growth for Chrome than an organic growth of 3 percent per year?
PC market share statistics from researcher Gartner, however, show Sony has a paltry 1.5 percent market share, selling only 1,039,742 computers in the second quarter this year.
Suppose Sony sells another million computers in the current quarter, and let’s say half those users opt to go with Chrome over IE or even installing Firefox. That’s 500,000 new Chrome users for the quarter. Average that out for a full year, and that’s 2 million new users per year and close to 6 million by Chrome’s third birthday in 2011.
Every analyst eWEEK polled said that while the Sony deal gives Google a toehold in PC bundling, it isn’t enough for Google and high-tech watchers to get excited over. IDC analyst Al Hilwa called Sony’s bundling of Chrome more of moral victory than a substantive one at this stage.
“It is certainly a milestone, and it is exactly what Google needs to do to get the penetration of Chrome up, namely build alliances and OEM preinstallation deals,” Hilwa said. “I would expect more such deals in the future. If Google is to achieve 10 percent share by 2011, they would have to strike some serious alliances with the top PC makers as well as offer some differentiated capabilities that can reach the masses.”
Analysts Are Guarded on Chromes Prospects
Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLeish said Google is not going to get a significant market uptake just from Sony, but it signals that they are negotiating and she also expects additional deals to come the browser’s way.
“It will be a delicate balance for PC manufacturers, but because of the rulings in Europe that require Windows 7 not to be bundled with IE 8, they will need to provide additional browsers anyway,” McLeish said. “This makes it easier for them to add Chrome or another browser to the system image.”
Gartner’s Ray Valdes is a bit more skeptical on the matter. “I don’t think there will be a big impact from this one deal. I think it’s about visibility, it’s about branding, and it’s also about you have to begin the long march with one step at a time. But I don’t see that they’re going to get a huge number of deals.”
Indeed, Valdes said Google needs to do more to move Chrome forward, inking more OEM deals, adding more features and offering better platform support.
Why are the analysts so skeptical? At one point, Microsoft’s IE commanded 90 percent of the browser market, attesting to how well bundling Web browsers on PCs works, particularly if one has an operating system to go with it.
Therein lies the rub. PC manufacturers, which have nothing but dumb boxes of metal, plastic and silicon without an OS to support them, could fear spurning Microsoft by going with Chrome. This would make it harder for Chrome to find purchase with HP, Dell, Lenovo or other PC makers.
“There is a reluctance. Google would need to change the value proposition,” Valdes said. “It can’t be all risk and no reward for those PC makers. Right now, what’s in it for a PC maker, to risk getting on the bad side of one vendor without significant financial return?”
Of course, Chrome deals with hardware vendors would be more impactful if Google were to bundle it along with its forthcoming Chrome Operating System. “That would be a new category,” Valdes said.