As the market adjusts to tablets and notebooks battling it out, Google and Hewlett Packard surely hoped to have a hot Chromebook on their hands. But not literally.
Redfaced execs at both companies this week had to pull the latest version of the device, the HP Chromebook 11, out of the sales channel after reports from "a small number of users" that micro-USB chargers included with the device overheat during extended use and have been damaged. The Chromebooks themselves have not been damaged.
Use Another Plug
"We are working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to identify the appropriate corrective action, and will provide additional information and instructions as soon as we can," Caesar Sengupta, Google's vice president of Product Management, said in a post on Google's Chrome Blog Wednesday.
He said HP Chromebook 11 customers should not use the original charger provided with the product. "In the interim they may continue using their HP Chromebook 11 with any other Underwriters Laboratories-listed micro-USB charger, for example one provided with a tablet or smartphone," Sengupta wrote. "We apologize for the inconvenience."
The Chromebook 11 malfunction comes just a month after its launch at $279, with an 11.6" display and weighing just 2.3 pounds. The previous model was made by Samsung Electronics. The low-cost devices built to run Google's Chrome operating system have been competing well with other devices in their class.
They are particularly attractive to students who don't like schlepping heavy laptops to class, or keeping expensive computers in their dorm rooms.
"From what I can tell, Chromebooks are taking share from the low end of the notebook market," said Avi Greengart, a consumer devices analyst for Current Analysis.
He said the timing was a setback for that growth. "Sales have been stopped right in the heart of the holiday shopping season."
Overheating has plagued a large variety of products, from iPods to big-screen TVs as well as other chargers and supply products and laptop batteries made by Sony.
"Problems like this crop up from time to time everywhere," said Greengart.
"It could be a manufacturing tolerance issue. Or a bad part in the supply chain. Or it could be an engineering issue," he said. "Back in 2008, Apple had to recall some of its USB chargers because the prongs weren’t fastened secure enough internally. I’m sure Google is doing a detailed postmortem to determine the problem and ensure it doesn’t happen again, but they are not sharing those details with us."
According to research firm IDC, Chromebooks made up only 1 percent of worldwide PC and tablet shipments in the third quarter of 2013, compared to tablets with 36 percent and PCs with 36 percent. Samsung was the largest vendor with 652,000 units shipped.
Chromebooks are not yet as widely available outside the U.S. as are their competitors, however.