After reading I have seen the future of personal computing Darrin Lim asks:
@billbennettnz Thrust of your piece is about cloud yet you don't mention Chromebooks. Any reason why?
— Darrin Lim (@darrinlim) January 27, 2016
Lim is right: Personal computing’s future is cloudy. The trend is towards something we once called thin clients. I call them: thinner clients.
I didn’t mention Chromebooks in the earlier post because they belong to a separate class. They pose a different threat to Windows laptops.
Popular, thin, cloud-focused Chromebooks have their own place in the new style of computing.
They have little in common Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, Apple’s iPad Pro or the 2015 MacBook. Google’s Chromebook Pixel models are an exception.
Most Chromebooks are low-cost, low-specification devices. In New Zealand prices start at about 20 percent the cost of the other computers mentioned earlier. The ones I’ve seen are not as thin or light, nor do they have great screens and long battery lives. They are not as well made.
You can’t do much on a Chromebook when they don’t have an internet connection. Nor can you do anything that isn’t done through the Chrome browser. If you don’t like Chrome as your browser, you can change it, but it’s not easy for non-technical users.
To some these sound like limitations. To many Chromebook buyers they are virtues. Corporate and government buyers like the idea. There’s less to go wrong, less scope for misuse. Less to manage, less to support, less capital expense, less to lose. Chromebooks are just straightforward, basic computers that can do 90 percent of what most office workers need.
Which explains why Chromebook is a great choice for many organisations.
The low-cost is a big deal. Parents don’t have to decide between a Chromebook and a family holiday or school shoes in the way they might with other new era devices.
I don’t see many buyers tossing up the merits of a Chromebook against, say, the iPad Pro. They will make a choice between a Chromebook and a Windows laptop.
Chromebook fits into the picture at the opposite end of the spectrum from the computers mentioned earlier. They put Windows laptops in a pincher. The machines mentioned earlier challenge Windows laptops at the top of the market. Chromebooks undermine Windows laptops from below.
For that reason, Chromebooks are another reason why Windows laptops are not the future of personal computing.
One aspect of Chromebooks I’ve not been able to determine is Google’s commitment. Google has licensed Android to computer makers. There may be two product lines long-term, the two may converge. Whatever, one way or another Google is in the market with a cloud alternative. It’ll be interesting to see if the company gets serious about selling the Pixel C model.