When Google released the Chrome Operating System in 2008, it was a non event. People shrugged their shoulders. Google just released ‘a ridiculous beta browser that they call an operating system. And it can’t even run Skype!’ was the reaction in tech blogs. Not one blog I read had anything good to say about it. ‘Why would anyone want an Android operating system on a laptop??’ was another common reaction. No one predicted it’s demise because no one thought it would actually even make it through childbirth.
Fast forward to 2013, when Business Insider announced that ‘two of the three best selling laptops on Amazon were Google’s Chromebooks’. At that point people started to pay attention or at least to look into it. ‘How on God’s Green Earth could Chrome OS pass Windows and Mac when no one I know has one?’ was the reaction of my friends. ‘This must be a mistake’ another friend said. But the reason they missed the trend was because they were old. Or at least they were over 18. All the action was happening in primary, jr high and high school and under the radar of tech journalists and self appointed experts.
This dichotomy piqued my interest. And made me think we might be looking at a disruptive technology here: That isn’t yet understood by the mass market. So I started asking my friends kids how they used Chromebooks at school. The thing that got me was that they said they left their computers at school and worked on their homework online. On Chrome OS. So I asked them to show me.
Sure enough, they logged onto their account on their home Chromebook and shazam! they were looking at the exact same setup they had at school. A Chrome OS account means you are logging into your desktop something like logging into your email account. Where ever you go, there’s your desktop. And your homework.
Using their Chromebooks, it immediately struck me that in many ways, this machine was, in fact, superior to Mac and Windows. Faster startup time. No need for anti-virus as it cannot get viruses due to it’s very nature. So they are very fast. And there is nothing to update. Less need for computing power so prices are much much lower. Mac and Windows simply cannot compete on price due to less hardware requirements. Nothing to update so you don’t have to be an unpaid Network IT guy. They never slow down because they never get clogged up with software. They are always as fast as when you first open the box. Just login and you’re good to go.
I think many of the misunderstandings about Chrome OS are due to people, usually old people, never having used them. To get an idea what it’s like to use a Chromebook, imagine using only your Chrome browser for most things. Ok, that’s probably how you already operate. But you can’t use software…because you can’t install software. But you can install apps. Like your phone. So you can use Photoshop app and many others. Soon the entire Android app universe will work on your Chromebook.
So you’ll have a machine that is faster than anything else out there. Cheaper because the need for expensive hardware is almost non-existent. Think $199. And it you lose it or it’s damaged, no worries, login from another machine. Your stuff’s all there. In your account.
Fast forward two short years. Again I am hearing nothing from my friends. Nothing from the press. I checked Chromebooks progress again. By 2015 Google’s Chromebooks made up half of US classroom devices including both laptops and iPads. The key market, youth, the education market has already fallen. See tobacco company data for the value of this market. How could Google have stolen the education market from a loved and entrenched company, ie Apple?
5 trends to consider
1. The rise in the power of apps. Apps are doing what software used to do. Photo editing, filters, video editing are not only possible but easier to use with more intuitive interfaces and thus require less training. Click, swipe, save. Because apps are where the action is, guess where the programming talent it going? Young kids are making apps. Dream of the next unicorn app. Not the next Microsoft Office.
2. Consumer needs have changed. Few predicted the rise of ‘fast fashion’ and fall of expensive French designers (classics) either. It’s a new breed of consumer with different habits and needs. Cheap clothes worn for the moment. Good enough. Fashionable enough. Easy to update and change. Bang for the buck, they deliver.
3. Security. It’s simply not possible to install key-loggers, malware, roof-kits, viruses because you simply can’t install software. It’s physically impossible. So Chrome computer don’t need a lot of things other computers need. I’d go so far as to say that it’s the best computer for on-line banking or bitcoin.
4. Internet speed and hardware advances. It’s a perfect storm. The modern iPhone is estimated to be 120,000,000 times faster than the onboard computer on the Apollo space mission. Times have changed. Mobile flies.
5. We’re slowly heading to a one device future. Just like the iPhone ate the desktop, apps and cloud are eating the desktop. Think about it, when you edit a picture now, do you buy Photoshop for $120 a year or a single payment of $700? Or would you just download the free Photoshop app and call it a day? Professional photographers will still opt for the full version but most users are quite happy with the app. It’s easy, it’s fast, it requires no training, no videos to watch, download, open, edit, post. Boom! Done. For free.
Google Chrome OS is moving fast. Recent developments:
Chromebooks outsold Apple’s range of Macs in the US starting from May 2016, Research Firm IDC,
Chromebooks are getting pressure-sensitive touchscreens Sept 16, PC World
Google API cryptographically secures Chromebooks (cryptographically validate Chrome OS devices before letting them connect to secure networks) Sept 16, 2016
You can now download, install and run Android apps natively on most Chromebooks. With all soon capable of running all Android Apps and Google Play
Chromebooks for Business
After writing off the cloud model, losing the crucial education market, it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse for Apple and Windows. Unfortunately, it did. Surely these strange new laptops will never infiltrate the office…right? They will stay in the classroom? …right?
Un, no. There are a slew of new hardworking Chromebooks from Dell, HP, Lenovo and others that can officially be called workhorses. Dell’s Chromebook 13, is beautiful, made of carbon fiber, Intel Core i3-6100U processor, a 1080p display and has a 13 hour battery. And is cheap at $429.
Chromebooks for work are just getting started so keep your eye on this space.
As a final thought, it is possible that Chrome OS won’t run the vast majority of devices in 15 years. Google could mess it up somehow (I doubt they would blow a lead it) but, even if that were to happen, I believe that someone running their model will. The increased security, flexibility, decreased need for fast hardware due to lack of local processing combined with ever increasing internet speeds are an unbeatable combination.
Data Loss and Theft
A huge advantage Chromebooks have over both Mac’s and Windows devices is that if your laptop is lost of stolen, you simply login to another Chromebook and all your data is there. You don’t lose anything because there is nothing stored locally. This is a huge advantage and one that makes computing less stressful. Combine that with a starting $199 price tag and the stress melts off. Great for small businesses.
How Apple and Windows will respond is anyone’s guess but Google has a 10 year lead and a full app store ready to rock. And nothing to lose because Google does not sell software and is not cannibalizing sales like Apple or Windows will have to do. Can they make the switch? Are they ready to bite the bullet and amputate the arm that feeds them? (and lose all that revenue) It’s anyone’s guess. But this is an exciting race and will be good for consumers as they will get better, cheaper, safer computing.
It could be a competitor no one sees coming. An app itself like WeChat. WeChat already functions very much like an operating system for users. Remember those pesky apps edging out software… They could possibly edge out operating systems themselves.