Google's Cheap Chromebooks Could Challenge Tablet Sales
Google's push to promote its Chrome operating system is driving the price of mobile computing down, with the company and Acer now offering a Chromebook for just $199.
That's even lower than the $249 Samsung Chromebook introduced last month. The first commercially available Chromebook, Samsung's Series 5, sold for $349 back in June 2011 with Wi-Fi-only capability or $449 with a 3G modem. The current Samsung, the XE303c12, sells for $329 with 3G.
Chromebook or Tablet?
The Acer C7 Chromebook is only available with Wi-Fi connectivity. It has an 11.6-inch display, an Intel Core 1.1-gigahertz processor and an HD camera. It comes with 100 gigs of cloud storage on Google Drive.
But should you spend the deuce on a Chromebook or shell out the same money on a Nexus tablet or Kindle Fire HD; or a bit extra -- another $129, perhaps, for an iPad mini? Both tablets and Chromebooks offer quick startup, extreme portability and easy browsing.
Unlike your basic laptop or MacBook, a Chromebook isn't very useful without an Internet connection.
"Relying on the browser as the main user interface, Chromebooks are inherently connected devices, meaning they always need to be attached to an Internet connection for basic functionality," said senior mobile devices analyst Jeff Orr of ABI Research.
Orr told us that Chromebooks are different from tablets in that they're meant to compete with notebooks and ultraportables.
"Portable computers, including Chromebooks, are positioned for consumers and business users that need to utilize the system in multiple locations -- home, office and on-the-go -- that cannot be accomplished using a 'destination' computer such as all-in-one desktop or in mobile situations where smartphones and tablets are primarily marketed," the analyst said.
"Chromebooks may be a purchase consideration for those looking to portable computing for a flexible and affordable solution."
Google's Chrome has yet to make a dent in the worldwide operating system market dominated by Microsoft's Windows, with 92 percent, and Apple's Macintosh with 7 percent, according to netmarketshare.com.
A rock-bottom price for Acer's C7 could help Google make that dent.
"Pricing is definitely relevant, because a Chromebook is less capable than a full PC, so when initial Chromebooks were priced in the same neighborhood as an inexpensive laptop or netbook, they made little sense for most consumers," said Avi Greengart of Current Analysis.
"With lower pricing and more consumers living in the cloud for more of their computing needs, today's Chromebooks are much more appealing."
Chromebook sales could then be helped by Google's weakness in the app-centric tablet market.
"Google's problem in tablet computing is not the fact that it is advancing both Android and Chrome OS and that these OS's are in conflict," Greengart told us. "Google's problem is that it has not segmented the Android Play app store to encourage rich, tablet-specific apps."