Whether or not Google’s Chromebooks seize a significant portion of the overall laptop market, at least one analyst thinks the devices could play well in a business environment.
Chromebooks rely on Chrome OS, Google’s PC operating system that’s largely dependent on a Web connection (and built around Google services such as Gmail). While there is some offline functionality, including Offline Gmail and document editing via Google Docs, Chrome OS is meant to live online pretty much full-time. (For its part, Google likes to argue that Chrome OS is automatically updated and thus never gets “old.”)
Shifting employees from “traditional” laptops onto Chromebooks can provide certain benefits, Forrester analyst JP Gownder argued in a July 29 blog posting. “Chromebooks offer the prospect of radically reducing the amount of time IT staff spends ‘keeping the lights on’ for devices,” he wrote. “As one IT leader told me, ‘instead of spending time installing software on laptops, or creating images, I’d rather have my desktop services people work on implementation of technologies related to location awareness or 3D printing.’”
In addition, employees enjoy collaborating—something facilitated by the Chromebook and its underlying Chrome OS. “One CIO reported that workers at his company started to use Google Drive and other collaboration tools ‘organically and automatically’ after the adoption of Gmail,” Gownder wrote. “Chromebooks reinforce the value of these tools and represent the next logical step in empowering collaboration.”
But that’s not to say that Chromebooks effortlessly plug into every workplace scenario. “Although Chromebooks are highly portable (and offer optional wireless subscription options), for many hyper-portable business scenarios, tablets might be a better choice,” he concluded. “Overall, though, it’s time to take the Google enterprise proposition seriously—and enterprises should conduct a fresh evaluation of Chromebooks.”
Google certainly wants more people using Chromebooks, which have enjoyed some significant price-cuts over the past few quarters. The Acer C7 Chromebook now starts at $199, for example, while Samsung’s most basic-model Chromebook retails for $249 and up. There are also devices available at higher price points, including the HP Pavilion Chromebook ($329) and the Samsung Chromebook 550 ($449).
According to research firm NPD Group, Chromebooks won’t present an existential threat to Microsoft or Apple anytime soon, but the hardware has managed to seize nearly a quarter of the U.S. market for laptops that cost under $300. “While we were skeptical initially, I think Chromebooks definitely have found a niche in the marketplace,” Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD, told Bloomberg earlier in July. “The entire computing ecosystem is undergoing some radical change, and I think Google has its part in that change.” Some of that change could involve businesses.