Chromebook Sales, Thanks to Schools, to Grow 79 Percent in 2014

Chromebook sales figures have the education market to thank, but real-estate, finance, hospitality and other sectors also stand to benefit, says Gartner.

Gartner Chromebooks

Chromebook sales this year will outperform 2013 sales by 79 percent, according to an Aug. 11 report from research firm Gartner.

The primary demand for Chromebooks—inexpensive notebooks with operating systems based in the cloud, for easy updating and provisioning—has come from the education sector, which accounted for 85 percent of the 2.9 million units sold in 2013. But businesses, particularly in finance, real estate, banking and hospitality, should increasingly contribute to sales, said the report.

"So far, businesses have looked at Chromebooks but not bought many," Gartner Principal Analyst Isabelle Durand said in a statement. "By adopting Chromebooks and cloud computing, businesses can benefit. They can shift their focus from managing devices to managing something much more important—their data."

Another benefit of Chromebooks, said the report, is that they encourage greater collaboration and sharing of cloud-store content.

"As more users work collaboratively in the cloud, collaborative working practices are likely to become more common," said Gartner.

Samsung, the worldwide leader in smartphone sales, is also the leader in Chromebook sales, though the vast majority of them (82 percent in 2013) are sold in North America.

In 2013, Samsung's share of the pie was a generous 65 percent, while number-two vendor Acer grabbed a 21 percent share and Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo each had just less than 7 percent.

Acer, points out the report, focuses on delivering "the best value for the money," and uses Intel, rather than ARM-based, processors.

HP focuses on providing business solutions, and is the only vendor to offer a Chromebook with a 14-inch display, while Lenovo makes its Chromebooks particularly rugged—which has made them ideal for classrooms, particularly in elementary and secondary schools.

To help Chromebooks gain wider appeal, beyond the niche market they're expected to occupy over the next five years, vendors will need to improve the features around cloud-based usage patterns, said Gartner. That means "faster connectivity, faster memory access, faster and larger solid-state drives, and strong user support in the education, business and consumer segments," said the report.

More than hardware features or price, added Durand, "what is most important is to show how the device's cloud-based architecture provides genuine advantages to users."

A Legitimate Third Platform

NPD Group, in a July 14 report, said that Chromebook sales within the U.S. commercial channel increased 250 percent year over year and that Chromebooks accounted for 35 percent of all channel notebook sales.

Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group, said that in the education market, Google's Chrome had established itself as a "legitimate third platform" alongside offerings from Microsoft and Apple.

"The next test for Chrome will clearly be the most difficult," said Baker, "as both Apple and Microsoft get more aggressive in pricing and deal-making over the next few months."

By the end of the third quarter, with the education buying season complete, Baker added, "We will have a much clearer picture of the long-term impact Chromebooks will have in the commercial channel."