Chromebook 2013 reflections and our expectations for 2014
When a Ballmer-esque, ex. wrestler looking, pawn shop manager tells you your Chromebook sucks, you know that Microsoft feels threatened! Yup, 2013 has been the year when Chromebook has been more prominent than ever! They’ve battled on all fronts, the pixel wars, the high grade/high quality machines vs. the low-key extra portable/higher density screened machines. They’ve tried the path of the ARM processors while also managing to gorge into better low-end(ish) Intel processors as well. They’ve had some flops and but also some well-earned victories.
And, most of all…
They seem to have settled into a better/richer niche of their own making, attracting users that want portability and lightweight-ness, all packed with great overall specced machines. Also, cheap machines that can actually get things done and not break in your lap (yeah, I’m looking at you Surface tablet!), in the $250 – $300 bracket is what 2013 has been all about. So yeah, 2013 has been a good year for Chromebook. So here’s us looking back on the year and asking questions, or just meditating on what has changed. First up, a question:
Are Chromebooks (still) looking for a purpose?
Some would (still) argue that the usability of a Chromebook machine is on the lower end of the spectrum, with many other devices doing some of the same things, but better. For instance, if you’re a real on-the-go user and want to use Google Cloud, nothing stops you from doing it in Windows, in OS X or even in some slates and smartphone platforms.
So, then, how is a Chromebook any more special or better fit for any of these?
Well, here’s a concrete example. Let’s think of the average tablet user: let’s say they have to choose between an iPad or Surface and a Chromebook. Just stick with me for a sec, until I explain why I’m choosing these two seemingly disparate products. You’ll probably be thinking that a slate is not really an on-the-go productivity machine, and you’d be right, but, if, say, you were looking to change the comparison to a, say, MacBook Air and a Chromebook machine, or, indeed, a no-name netbook and a branded Chromebook machine, a couple of issues would arise.
However, the most immediate advantage to a Chromebook user is that if your company is using Google Cloud extensively, there will already have been some manner of additional cloud setups, certain already designed channels of communication and ways of framing your workloads, from the company/employer side. Simply put, framework and set-up, plus step by step instructions and ways to get things done already have a platform on a Chromebook. That allows a (corporate) Chromebook user to pick up his tasks and get them done hassle free.
Also, on a Chromebook, the cloud is immediately available, directly served as needed, with the least amount of, if you will, clicks/work; between you getting the assignments and then getting the job done you’re better prepared on a Chromebook.
Also, admin tasks and network setup is truncated; An admin would always know that the company’s machines are using the same specifications, and that the users interact with the cloud through the same (hardware) platform, sharing similar if not exactly the same parameters, the same environments.
This can reduce the amount of issues arising from users on disparate (hardware and software) platforms, keeps framework issues out of the way, and also, the company can afford to employ fewer hardware maintenance positions.
So, to turn back to my point, what the Chromebook environment does, lightweight and still in its (not quite, anymore!) infancy as it may (have) be(en), is streamline a lot of regular cloud basics, allowing users (companies, in this specific instance) to forgo a lot of cloud specific issues. Because the Chromebook is the perfect cloud machine!
Still, that doesn’t answer my initial question: why an iPad/Surface vs. a Chromebook? Well, because in terms of portability they are similar. Very few netbooks or other very portable machines go for as low as the basic (yet very functional Chromebooks) go for; let’s just look at the most recent Chromebook lineup:
Perfect machines for the road, quite capable processors, all dual core, all multitasking median beauties! Yeah, in the slate department, only the Surface (to which I’d add the suffix Pro!) can even manage an external QWERTY keyboard, to an additional cost and to additional hassle regarding storage. Just think about having to “manage” an external keyboard (ex: avoiding losing it on some faraway train journey!)!
Also, the idea that you can’t get much work done on a Chromebook without internet connection, while partially true, is true for all modern machines. Heck, add all the lineup of current laptops, netbooks, Chromebooks and what have you, and you’ll find out that actual availability of production suites installed on site, on the hardware, doesn’t really make so much of a difference for getting the job done!
Because the work itself is online, the information you need, the communication tools, that forum post that has the answer to that one issue you may have!
Therefore, I would argue that a Chromebook is just as well suited for the actual, real world on-the-go work environment as any other machine; in many ways better suited than any others because it already offers the cloud brickwork/framework that a company may use to easily slide into, set up things as they want to and start being productive. And, as far as hardware is used to get a job done, a Chromebook can be used for entertainment, for lightweight gaming and for lots of other application, while a slate is rarely anything BUT a light entertainment tool!
So, if anything, Chromebook in 2013 has shown that it can be a much more solid slate replacing tool and a great netbook companion for companies to consider. Offering a lot at low prices, offering the security of the cloud, the immediacy of a browser tuned OS, quickly reaching maturity and, also, being more secure than a lot of other high price/high maintenance machines.
The Price Wars
I think that many of us were looking at slates from afar, kind of getting what they were all about, kind of having that snide look towards them. Yeah, they are a cool toy, but when Microsoft comes and calls something like $400 a “competitive price” for a machine that is not a laptop, nor a slate, nor able to run, say the world of applications developed for Android, you kind of notice the disconnect between the statements of the PR people and the actual reality in the field.
So, I would argue, that if Chromebook has won anything in 2013 it has been a war on perception and actually delivering quality on the cheap. Yeah, raising prices artificially, as if laptops and other tech items were (swag infused!) clothing has been Apple’s realm, and lately Microsoft’s. But Chromebook kept things “real” offering lots of varied machines for very low prices, and fewer products that were subpar, granted, if you knew to pick products from reputable hardware developers. Some of the $250 area products can easily stand their ground near MacBook Air or Microsoft slate/netbooks and the like, that cost 3 times more. So, it’s a game where the consumer has to ask himself if he’s willing to pay extra for a logo, or if he just wants a product that works, no thrills, as it may be.
OS wise, 2013 has also shown that, altogether, the question has always been about getting used to an environment, really, as Microsoft Windows 8 has (kind of) flopped, trying to copy some of Chromebook OS’s own moves, making Chrome itself be perceived as the trendsetter. But more about that in a dedicated article; Still, from a tech/hardware point of view, it seems that Chrome is fast becoming a lot more for a lot more people, a more flexible, cheaper, safer and if you’d allow me, a less (or, for that matter, none at all!) bullshit kind of platform!
What do we wish to see in 2014?
Why of course, more on-the-cheap but still highly proficient Chromebook machines!
There’s not a lot we could wish on the hardware front for 2014 from Chrome. Yeah, they tried the high quality/high pixel density machines, and, for the most part, people haven’t found that to be Chrome’s forte. But the median powered, low priced, (a lot!) better than average screen quality and overall good design machines? Yep, that’s what we want to see in 2014, and, why not, a few new non laptop Chrome machines, just for the sake of variety. At any rate, hit use with your comments, share the pains and thrills you went through with your own Chrome machines in 2013 and, last but not least, tell us what you’d expect from us – Chromebook.net in 2014! Happy Holydays, everybody (you too, Mr. Ballmer!) !