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Chromebook Sales Could Top 7 Million This Year

Market research firm Gartner Inc. on Thursday estimated that 7.3 million Chromebooks would be sold this year, fueled mostly by demand from the education industry. Gartner said its sales estimate was an increase of 27 percent from 2014, when the education industry accounted for 72 percent of sales.

Chromebooks, the computers powered by Google’s Chrome operating system, are designed to be used primarily to access the Internet and run online. Despite an interest in Chromebooks among small and medium-size businesses, demand from those sectors was still slow, Gartner said. Google is going after the business segment with its Chromebook for Work suite of office applications and has tried to make more applications and services available offline.

North America was the biggest market in 2014, accounting for 84 percent of sales. While Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) brought in 11 percent, Asia Pacific contributed less than 3 percent, with demand in Australia, New Zealand and Japan trailing behind.

“Since the first model launched in mid-2011, Google’s Chromebook has seen success mainly in the education segment across all regions,” according to Isabelle Durand, principal analyst at Gartner. “In 2014, the education sector purchased 72 percent of Chromebooks in EMEA, 69 percent in Asia/Pacific, and 60 percent in the U.S.”

What’s Behind the Numbers?

We contacted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, who told us that the Gartner study is based on historical activity, not focused research on buyer intent.

“The core numbers for [sales] activity come from the vendors, who often overstate their numbers,” said Enderle. “They also don’t take into account returns because the vendor is under no obligation to report them. Finally, they don’t anticipate success of a competing product like Windows 10, which will compete far more aggressively on price than Windows 8 did.”

Chromebooks are doing better in the consumer retail space, but Google still must improve brand awareness, especially outside the United States, according to Gartner.

“The majority of Chromebook users are tech-savvy individuals who purchase one as a companion device to their primary notebook or desktop PC. Others are buying a Chromebook for the household to use as a second low-cost PC alternative,” Durand said. “The major factors that affect the adoption of Chromebooks by consumers remain the connectivity issue in emerging markets, but also the ability for users to understand and get used to cloud-based applications, and keep content in the cloud and ecosystem.”

Education Market Will Be Key

Enderle said that the sales figures for the Chromebook so far might not reflect the fact that many have historically been bought at deep discounts. He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if the reality of Chromebook sales fell short of the projections.

“Outside of education which has temporarily embraced other low-cost technologies in the past — like ‘one laptop per child’ — there has been no evidence yet of a sustained market at this size,” he said. “The likelihood that [Gartner’s] numbers are massively overstated is very high as a result.”

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