Google and Partners Push Chromebooks Beyond the Education Market

on October 25, 2019

There have been several Chromebook-related announcements in recent weeks, signaling that Google and its partners see new opportunities for the platform outside of its traditional stronghold in the U.S. education market. Updated enterprise-focused features, commercial and prosumer-focused hardware, and competition within the silicon space all point to a strong push for Chromebooks in 2020. The question: Is the market ready to buy?

Chromebooks for Enterprise
In late August, Google and Dell Technologies launched updates to their respective Chrome-based offerings. Google announced the Chrome Enterprise Upgrade, which lights up a wide range of capabilities required inside commercial organizations. New features included management capabilities, around user policies, network management, and device reporting. The company also did a major update to the Google Admin Console, increasing the speed and flexibility of the Web interface where IT goes to manage Chromebooks. These upgrades build upon the $50-per-Chromebook subscription model Google launch back in 2017 and work with existing unified endpoint management products such as VMware’s Workspace ONE, Citrix’s Endpoint Management, and others.

Dell’s concurrent announcement: The launch of two new Latitude Chromebooks. The Latitude 5400 Chromebook Enterprise, a $699 Intel-based notebook with a 14-inch display, and the Latitude 5300 2-in-1 Chromebook Enterprise, an Intel-based 13-inch convertible starting at $819. Dell’s seriousness about this segment push was evident by the fact the company announced it would launch the new products in 50 countries. A big part of its strategy: integrating Chrome OS into its unified workspace story.

HP Adds Chromebooks to DaaS
On October 10th, HP announced it was also launching a new lineup of Chrome Enterprise products, noting that its research showed “four out of five businesses are already exploring cloud-native clients like Chromebooks.” HP didn’t announce pricing for the new products, which will ship in late October and November. They include the Chromebook Enterprise X360, a 14-inch, Intel-based convertible, the Chromebox Enterprise G2, an Intel-based desktop for frontline workers, and the Chromebook Enterprise 14A, a 14-inch traditional notebook featuring AMD processors.

Equally notable: When HP launches its new Chromebooks, the company said they would also become available as part of its Device as a Service offering. I’ve written extensively about DaaS, and it is a testament to the slow but steady momentum of that market that HP has opted to expand its offering to include these new Chrome products. The “As a Service” model lets companies contract with a provider—such as HP—to offload device deployment, management, and lifecycle services, freeing up internal IT to focus on bigger picture projects. (It’s worth noting that Dell is also now offering Chromebooks as part of its PC as a Service offering, too).

Google Launches PixelBook Go
Last week at its big Pixel launch event, Google itself announced the PixelBook Go, a standard notebook product that starts at $649 with an Intel Celeron processor, but goes all the way up to $1,399 when equipped with a Core I7 processor, 4K display, 16GBs of RAM, and a 256GB of storage. Google adds an extra layer of security to the device utilizing its Titan C security chip, which validates the OS before bootup, a feature clearly aimed at commercial buyers. The Go joins Google’s existing convertible product, the PixelBook, which it launched in 2017 and sells for $999.

The Go announcement is interesting, as the range of configurations means it can hit a wider range of price points than the original PixelBook. However, it’s a rather staid form factor that seems to indicate that Google isn’t necessarily interested in being at the forefront of Chromebook design. Whether commercial companies will take a leap and buy from Google or stick with their existing providers such as Dell and HP remain to be seen.

Market Readiness
At IDC, my colleague Linn Huang has closely monitored the Chrome market, tracking its strong growth in education and its early forays into the adjacent commercial space. Earlier this year, he ran a survey asking IT decision-makers about their current and future appetite for supporting Chrome inside their organization. Among the U.S. enterprise buyers we surveyed, Chrome makes up about 4% of their total PC installed base today. That same group expects it to grow to 10% of its installed base in the next two years. Among SMB buyers, the current installed base is about 2% of the total, growing to about 9% in two years. So, there is clearly interest and desire to experiment with Chrome among IT buyers.

This interest reflects a larger trend: IT reacting to the changing needs of the workforce. The one-size-fits-all method of IT support is no longer viable in a tight labor market driven by digital natives that enter the workforce expecting more hardware choices and the ability to work wherever and whenever they want. To service these workers, we expect more IT organizations to support a wider diversity of devices and platforms going forward. Chrome is just one of the beneficiaries of this trend.

Supply-Side Rumblings
Finally, we’ve recently begun to hear that several ARM-focused silicon providers are looking closely at the Chromebook market. Those who have been following this space awhile know that the very first Chromebooks shipped with ARM-based processors. Intel moved quickly to embrace the category, and since then its largely owned the entire market. In the last two years, we’ve seen a few vendors introduce AMD-based Chromebooks (including the HP mentioned above).

I’ve long felt that the cloud-based nature of Chromebooks makes them perfect candidates for an LTE modem. Unfortunately, until recently, most Chromebooks vendors—with a few notable exceptions—focused primarily on hitting a low price point, which made the inclusion of a cost-adding modem a tough proposition. I’d very much like to see some next-generation Chromebooks that offer such a connection regardless of whether they include and X86 processor or an ARM-based chip.

With the wide array of new product announcements this year, increasing vendor and silicon competition heating up for next year, new procurement options such as DaaS clearing the way, and increasingly pull from end-users pushing IT forward, I expect Chromebooks to gain more traction in the commercial market in the coming years.