Google-centric Chromebooks are turning out to be a big deal and they're only getting bigger. Shipments of laptops running Chrome OS increased 67 percent in the third quarter of 2014 compared to the previous quarter, according to market research firm ABI Research.
A big jump like that should be expected, however, when comparing a spring-summer selling period to the back-to-school season. What's really interesting is that ABI expects Chromebook shipments to double in size for 2014 compared to 2013. ABI also predicts that North America will account for 78 percent of worldwide Chromebook sales for 2014.
Why this matters: The PC market ain't what it used to be, but Chromebooks are surging in popularity. Google recently claimed that Chromebooks now account for 50 percent of sales to education institutions in the U.S., according to OMG Chrome. Microsoft has also noticed this trend and went after the growing popularity of Chromebooks during IFA Berlin in September. During the trade show, Windows PC makers--who also happen to be Chromebook makers--announced a bunch of dirt cheap, low-spec Windows laptops to compete with Chrome OS devices.
More than just a browser in a box
Chromebooks started out as devices that were more or less useless without an Internet connection. Since then, however, Chrome OS has morphed into a more powerful platform with offline functionality, a special version of Adobe Photoshop, a growing catalog of desktop-like apps, and deep integration with Android.
Add to that Google's popular suite of productivity apps from Gmail to Google Drive and it's easy to see why Chromebooks are becoming more popular. The fact that they're very inexpensive and easy-peasy to maintain surely helps as well.
Further reading: ARM vs. Intel: Why chipmakers want your Chromebook's brains
Not content with just Chromebooks, Google is also expanding Chrome OS functionality into other platforms. This is especially true for Windows, where anyone running Windows 8.1 can run Chrome in modern UI mode, where it basically transforms into a Windows-friendly version of Chrome OS.
Allowing people to become comfortable using the Chrome ecosystem within a PC platform they're already used to could earn Google a few more converts to Chrome OS over time.
But let's not be too bullish. It's still early days for the Chromebook, and fighting Microsoft on its home turf of the PC market rarely turns out well. As ABI points out, Chromebooks could turn out to be just another fad like netbooks before them, especially once a wave of low-cost, Windows 8.1 with Bing-powered laptops flood the market.
But netbooks were killed by tablets, not Microsoft. And unlike netbooks, Chromebooks are full-sized laptops that are well-designed (Er, at least the latest models). Add to that the Chromebook's low pricing--not to mention Google's major investment in the Chrome OS platform--and it's hard to see Chromebooks disappearing overnight the way netbooks did.