Home Chrome OS Hasn’t Conquered The World Yet, But Google Isn’t Giving Up

Chrome OS Hasn’t Conquered The World Yet, But Google Isn’t Giving Up

Google has been proudly showing off some new Chromebooks and other goodies this week, and earlier in the month, we also got to gawk at a brand new Pixel, the flagship luxury model in the world of Chrome OS. It’s a reminder that, even though the bare bones, Web-based platform isn’t currently reaching large swathes of the market, Google’s not giving up.  

Despite its growing adoption and regular appearances in the best-selling laptop charts on Amazon, Chromebooks still account for just 5 percent of sales right now, according to one of the latest estimates. Pinning down hard figures for the Chrome OS market share is difficult, but whatever it is, most analysts agree it’s not very high

See also: Latest Bad Sign For Tablets: Chromebooks Outship iPads In Schools

Despite Google’s foothold being so small, Microsoft and Apple are sitting up and taking notice. You might be surprised at just how many low-price, low-spec Windows 10 notebooks we see this year—one rumor even points to $149 Windows laptop putting the Chromebook in its crosshairs this year. But Google is in this for the long haul, and it has plenty of reason to stick it out: With the rise of cloud-based services and lower hardware costs, Chrome OS’s chances for success look stronger than ever.

Ghosts Of Chrome OSes past

HP has its own line-up of Chromebooks.

Naturally Chrome OS starts with Chrome, the speedy, stripped-down browser that Google unveiled to the world in 2008. Little did we realize then that this represented more than just a rival to Internet Explorer and Firefox—it meant a very different approach to computing altogether. 

Chrome OS—an entire operating system based on the original browser—launched in July 2009. Even some six years later, it’s not difficult to remember the howls of derision that accompanied the first Chromebook. Here was a low-spec, limited computer that could do nothing but browse the Web, and which was pretty useless outside of a Wi-Fi signal. The question most of us asked at the time was: Why would you buy a Chromebook rather than a Windows or Mac machine running the Chrome browser? 

Back then, the premise of putting all of our apps and files in the cloud seemed a little obscure, but it makes a lot more sense in 2015. Web apps have become more powerful, and Wi-Fi, more ubiquitous. We’re living more and more of our lives online now. Power users may still cling to local versions of Photoshop and Excel, but there are huge numbers of people out there, from students to pensioners, who can live easily within a browser. The trend seems to be going in only one direction—toward the cloud. 

It’s not a difficult trend to spot, either. Since the first Chromebook debuted, we’ve seen major names like Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, Spotify and even iWork hit the Web (from Apple, the champion of the native app, no less). Now that broader development has caught up, the other benefits of Chrome OS become more relevant: seamless server-side app updates, no gradual slowdown in performance, no need for backups or security software, and so on. 

Chrome’s Shiny Future

The Asus Chromebit.

This week, the public got some indications of what’s next for Chrome OS, including lower prices and new devices, including some in new product categories. 

Two new models, the Haier Chromebook 11 and the Hisense Chromebook, give the public $149 laptops to ponder. They may not impress anyone in your office, but they’ll do quite nicely for the kids, grandparents or anyone else who just wants to browse websites. They’re cheaper than most smartwatches, and much more useful. 

Google also announced a brand-new gadget: the sub-$100 Chromebit from ASUS. Though it may look like a USB drive, the Chrome dongle houses a whole Chrome OS computer and an HDMI port, so people can use televisions and other screens as displays. Think of it like a Chromecast TV stick, but with extra smarts (or at least enough to get online). 

With these debuts, the USB-C-packing Pixel and business-oriented Chromeboxes, plus any other forthcoming products, there’s plenty of choice now—which is striking because, if you get past the packaging, they all essentially do the same thing: give you Web access through Chrome. But the growing family of devices shows how the platform has progressed since its debut in 2009. Chrome OS has become a go-anywhere operating system that’s as adaptable as it is streamlined. 

As for what the future holds, we could see closer integration between Chrome OS and Android. A full merger may not make sense right now, but eventually, it seems inevitable. Chrome OS now offers a tablet mode (ready for the Asus Chromebook Flip), while Google has also opened its App Runtime for Chrome up to all developers, so anyone can port their Android apps to run on Web platform. 

And let’s not forget where it all started: the Chrome browser. Still a popular choice on Windows, Mac and Linux, it remains Google’s Trojan horse into other companies’ operating systems, with millions of people effectively running Chrome on top of something else.

What looked like a joke in 2009 is beginning to look more and more like the future. Back then, the big question was, “Why would you buy a Chromebook?” The question now may be, “Why wouldn’t you?” 

The answer depends on whether you need the local applications to do some heavy lifting, like full-suite video or music editing, or want access to your file systems. In that way, Chrome OS still isn’t a one-size-fits-all operating system for all people, all of the time. But give it another six years, and the landscape is likely to look very different once again. 

Images courtesy of Google

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