Last week in San Francisco, Google and Intel held a special event for Chrome OS and announced Chromebooks in new shapes, sizes and form factors. The two tech giants will pair up to offer at least 20 Chrome OS devices by the second half of 2014.
And the tech world essentially yawned.
We didn’t get the Pixel 2, 1080p displays, backlit keyboards or aluminum bodies. There was no Chrome OS tablet or even a true 2-in-1. Tech journalists were disappointed in a lineup that continues to use 1366×768 displays and peppered OEM executives in the Q&A session after the presentation about the lack of differentiating features between models.
In short, much of the assembled press were underwhelmed and disappointed by a lineup of devices they considered underpowered and lackluster.
But they were so wrong.
After taking the week to think about the impact of the Google-Intel confab, and after reading the many accounts of frustrated and disappointed tech journalists, I realized that most in the tech world are missing the big picture here. Google, Intel and its partners seem to be following an almost perfect strategy for introducing their products to as wide of a customer base as possible.
The allure of Chrome OS devices lies in their ease of use and maintenance. But a big factor in their popularity — perhaps the biggest factor — is their low cost. For a surprisingly small amount of money, consumers can get a machine that can do nearly anything they need it to. A Chromebook is a fantastic value for consumers, schools and the enterprise.
That value explains why Chromebooks are gaining traction.
“The top-rated six laptops at Amazon are all Chromebooks,” Google executive Caesar Sengupta said at the event, while also telling the audience that “7 of the 10 best-selling laptops are Chromebooks” at Amazon. He took particular note of the $199 Acer C720, which, despite being the lowest-priced Chromebook, also happens to be Amazon’s top-rated laptop.
What better way to fuel adoption of a fledgling OS, than to lower the price for entry? For $199, consumers can pick up a laptop that can do virtually anything a Windows or Mac laptop can do — for hundreds of dollars less.
And last week’s lineup announcement didn’t drastically depart from the low-cost strategy. Announced prices for the new models ranged from $250 to $400, less than half the $1,000+ cost of a Windows ultrabook or any model in Apple’s MacBook laptop.
So now that it’s obvious that OEMs are committed to keeping the price of Chromebooks affordable, what else are they offering to bring in more customers? Name-brand recognition. Google and Intel’s new lineup of Chromebooks took a huge step there.
At the end of 2013, just four manufacturers offered Chromebooks in the consumer market: Acer, HP, Samsung and Google with its high-priced concept machine, the Pixel. By the end of 2014, consumers can choose from Chromebooks by nearly every major PC vendor — Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Toshiba — Chromeboxes (think Mac Mini for Chrome OS) by Asus and HP, and an all-in-one desktop by LG called the Chromebase. What this means for consumers is that when they stroll into their local retailer to look at Chromebooks, they’ll have familiar names to choose from, taking some of the fear out of making the jump to Chrome OS.
As far as choices go, there will be plenty: battery life, touchscreens; convertibles; ARM, Haswell, Bay Trail and Core i3 processors; 11-, 13-, and 14-inch displays; 2GB or 4GB of RAM; 16GB or 32GB of SSD storage; 64-bit capability; 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking and IPS displays.
And because Chrome OS is a constantly evolving operating system (updates are issued every six weeks or so), Chromebooks actually run better, faster and longer over time, which means you might just hold onto your machine that much longer. Not a bad way to build up customer loyalty.