Chromebook craze won't abate this year

Chromebooks could however face competition from low-cost Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 devices

Dell's Chromebook 11 (1)

Dell's Chromebook 11 (1)

Google's effort to add features and push Chromebooks into more hands is working, with shipments of the low-cost laptops expected to jump 27 percent this year.

Chromebook shipments worldwide will touch 7.29 million this year, research firm Gartner said Thursday. Growth will slow down in 2016, though, with Chromebook shipments reaching 7.95 million units, Gartner said.

First introduced in 2011, most computer users are still just getting used to the Chromebook concept. The low-cost laptops, which run on Google's Chrome OS, are designed for those who do most of their computing on the Internet. They are used in much the same way that tablets and smartphones are, with most applications requiring an Internet connection.

Google is continually adding features to Chromebooks, which start at around US$149 for a basic model. PC makers like Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo have flooded the market with entry-level and advanced Chromebooks.

Google is pitching Chromebooks as a Windows PC replacement with a growing list of applications that can run offline. With content-sharing, videoconferencing and collaboration tools, Google wants to raise the appeal of the laptops for businesses.

Despite its growth rate, Chromebooks will still make up a small percentage of the roughly 300 million PCs expected to ship this year.

In 2014, Chromebooks found a niche in the education sector, which accounted for roughly 67.1 percent of shipments. About 26.7 percent of the Chromebook buyers were consumers, and 6.2 percent were business users.

Chromebook adoption will grow as computing moves to the cloud, but could face competition from low-cost Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 devices, said Isabelle Durand, principal analyst at Gartner.

"The success of Chromebooks in the consumer market is as much dependent on high-speed Wi-Fi broadband, mainly outside the U.S., as it is on overcoming perceptions that apps in the cloud are not secure enough," Durand said.

Tech-savvy users will continue to pick up Chromebooks as a secondary computing device to complement full-feature desktops and laptops, Durand said. Chromebooks could be appealing to small businesses that don't have big hardware budgets, she said.

There are challenges, though. The number of offline applications for Chromebooks are limited, users are still getting used to cloud-based applications like Google Docs, and Wi-Fi issues plague regions like Asia-Pacific, expected to be a major growth area for Chromebooks.

Acer was the top Chromebook maker last year, shipping 2 million units worldwide. HP was second, while Samsung slipped further down the list after it stopped selling Chromebooks in Europe.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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