Chromebooks Have Finally Arrived. Why? Because Tech Pundits Are Arguing Over Them

You know a mobile tech gadget has arrived when Tech Pundits start arguing over its worth in lengthy blog posts. That appears to be the case with the Google Chromebook. Chromebook naysayers have prompted some Chromebook advocates to push back in the debate. I have to admit, in my view the Chromebook is an odd duck of a mobile device and has been since we first heard about it. But I also have to admit on many levels and also with surprising cross sample of “regular folk” in my circles the Chromebook is making a lot of sense. The debate has turned into a “less is more” vs “more is better” argument.

Introducing_the_new_ChromebookHere are the participants. Paul Thurrott kicked things off with a post called “Assessing the Chromebook Threat.” that contains a sub-head that says “Chromebooks are a joke but they benefit from good timing.” That was followed up by Larry Seltzer on ZDNet with a post saying: “There’s no good reason to buy a Chromebook.” Both posts make the same point. Why buy a browser only device that looks like a laptop when you can do the same and more on a Windows laptop or Ultrabook? At the other podium, Kevin Tofel of GigaOm weighed in with “The Chromebook Pundits are Out of Touch with Reality.” And James Kendrick of ZDNet put things in an appropriate context with “Chromebooks: Sometimes Less Is More.” If you are considering a laptop form factor device and have thought about a Chromebook I recommend you read all four posts.

Looking at the four posts several things strike me.

  • Kendrick’s Less Is More post points to where the market has been since the dawn of the Age of the Netbook. The myth that most folks need powerful computers to get through the day has long since been exposed as the sham it always was.
  • The use of the word “stupid” by both Thurrott and Seltzer in bashing Chromebooks tars users with an unneccesary wide brush that makes their arguments seem defensive.
  • Tofel demonstrates some things he can do on a Chromebook that to him knocks down the argument that these aren’t real mobile computing devices while saying these devices need to be looked at in specific user case scenarios.

Chromebooks have an operating system that for all intents and purposes is a browser. As a platform there is an App ecosystem that can run within that browser. Google has been pushing things along and combined with its OEM partners has been advancing the platform and the price points and specs of Chromebooks.

Here’s the thing. I personally have only rudimentary experience with a Chromebook. The device category is not for me in how I work or play. That said, over the course of the last 9 months or so I’ve had five distinct conversations with friends, co-workers, and family who were looking to replace a notebook, asking for recommendations.  After the usual inventory drill to assess their needs, I’d give them several choices including the Chromebook. In all but one of those conversations no one had heard of a Chromebook before. In the one instance the individual had heard of it, his assumption going in was that it wasn’t a real computer.

Read: GBM Coverage of Chromebooks

After shopping around and comparing things, three of those inquiring ended up purchasing a Chromebook. All three are very happy with their decision. One ended up purchasing an iPad and a keyboard. Also very happy. The last ended up getting a tricked out gaming rig of some sort. I haven’t heard from him in awhile. I presume he’s lost in some game somewhere.

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Certainly not a scientific sampling by any means, but it confirms, to me at least, what I’ve been seeing for quite some time now. Even with devices at price points that make them almost disposable, some consumers are taking better stock of what they actually need to do with a device than they used to. Let’s face it with prices lower than many smartphones and Tablets, Chromebooks offer an attractive value if it fits your needs. Less can often be more, if not more satisfying, but it all (and always) depends on what a consumer wants and needs to do.

Thurrott is correct that Microsoft finds it self surrounded and should view Chromebooks as a threat. It’s the same threat that netbooks presented and we all know how that went down for the folks in Redmond. Buggy whip manufacturers moved more quickly to meet a threat to their business.

When I’m asked for a recommendation I always offer a range of choices depending on what the questioner wants and needs to do. The beauty of the market we’re in right now is that consumers have a range of devices, form factors, and solutions to choose from. That might make it tougher for those on the selling end of things, but too bad. Just look at it this way. Two years ago, who would have thought we would see Microsoft giving away Microsoft Office  for free on devices?  Google and the way it disrupts helped lead to that and quite a bit more. Better yet, in that same time frame who would have thought that Microsoft would be giving away Microsoft Office for free on devices it manufactures and markets, that run Office 2013 reasonably well on what many still label as “not a real computer?”

I just think the definition of “real computer” and “real computing” has changed so significantly, that regardless of how any pundit, including this one, feels or reacts, everything is a no longer just a moving target but instead has become a missile that can home in and disrupt the best of plans. The good news, is that smart consumers who take the time to explore their options have more to choose from than ever before. When the pundits are debating the merits of this or that platform, than I believe the platform is something worth adding to your options.

  

Comments

  1. Nicholas Kathrein says

    Couldn’t agree more. Having a truck so you can haul things is great but I drive 100 miles round trip a day to work and gas would cost to much so I drive a small sedan. It does what I need 99.5 % of the time saving me money 99.5 % of the time. For that 0.5% where I could use a truck I either rent one or ask to use a friends. Today most people in the U.S. have a desktop computer and an additional device or two which they use to do the 99.5% of their stuff. Chromebook is great for that. When you need to do something that requires something other than a Chromebook you just jump on a desktop computer. It’s not like we are having to choose one or the other. Most people have desktop computers for 5 to 7 years and mainly that is because many people use them so sparingly thanks to things like a Chromebook that we’re willing to put up with a little bit of a slow pc. Also any newer pc is so fast they may last more of us 7 to 10 years. My 2 cents.

  2. SPM says

    I think 2014 will be the year that Chromebooks slowly start to go mainstream. That is because in 2013, Google has only been trial marketing them – US and UK only and only in a limited number of retail outlets. Before october 2012 they were only marketed to schools and early adopters – priced too high for the consumer market.

    The reason was that various technologies and APIs were in development. on 12th November 2013 the last major part of ChromeOS (portable Native Client) was finished, and in 2014 HTML5 on which the Chromebook will be formally ratified, and so ChromeOS goes from something in active development to a production platform as far as developers are concerned.

  3. Furie says

    I think a lot of people get the words “real” and “traditional” mixed up when they’re trying to make a point, and they convince themselves that they’ve got it the right way around. A lot of the problem comes from articles like the ones you linked, where so-called tech pundits talk about these devices in a negative light. So often they’ll say something as the crux of their argument against them and, as an owner of one of these devices, I know that hasn’t been true for months or was eradicated before I even got one. It genuinely feels like they haven’t touched one since 2011 and are still feeding people info based on those limited experiences.

    For me, devices have always been about what I can do with them versus what I need to do. The original Chromebooks wouldn’t have suited my needs as they were entirely online and my web connection is pretty bad sometimes. Only later on when offline document editing came along did I even start to consider one. Eventually the great battery life and quick start up of the Samsung Series 3 convinced me to buy it for my writing needs alone, with the idea that other devices would take care of the heavy lifting of my other needs. So far the only thing I’ve used another device for was batch renaming of a load of related files (I may have been able to find a way to do it in the web store but it was only a one off and was quicker to send to my phone than look it up), and that was my phone not a traditional computer. Everything else is taken care of in this device.

    Sure, I can’t download my Steam library but I’m a console gamer anyway so that isn’t a problem for me. I can’t use Photoshop, but I’ve only ever needed basic image editing software with the ability to crop and resize. Those seem to be the big problems people have out of the way for me so this almost perfectly suits me. My only real problem is the lack of a packaged app for Evernote like the desktop versions, as the webpage is slow to load. My fiance wanted a “real laptop” so that she could do what she wants to do. When we went through those things we found that everything could be handled easily by my Chromebook and she’s settled on the idea of getting one of those now that she knows it’s more than just a browser.

    I just wish more of the people who are passing themselves off as being “in the know” actually were in the know and talking about the modern devices instead of the limitations of the early ones. You wouldn’t catch people talking about the next generation consoles as if they were the early versions of the PS1 after all, and that’s the equivalent of what they’re doing.

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