chromebook

There’s a $350 laptop you can buy that was described in the following way:

Design: Cheap, net-book like design. Entire thing is made of plastic. Palm rest that flexes when you grip it. [2.8 pounds so] weighty compared to the competition. Slightly thicker too.

Display: Poor-quality display. 1,366 x 768 screen [where if you] dip the screen too far forward, everything very quickly becomes washed out.

Keyboard: Underlying panel will bend a bit if you type vigorously enough. If you hit them too gently, you’re likely to suffer some missed key presses. The keyboard probably won’t recognize every single keystroke.

Performance: The performance gains here aren’t so huge.

Battery: 7 hours and 53 minutes of continuous video playback.

Software: Cannot, in good faith, recommend [the OS] to everyone. There will be people…who need the flexibility to install whatever apps they want.

What would you rate this device? Keep that number in mind.

Now here’s another $350 laptop you can compare it to —

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In yesterday’s post, we referenced the interview with Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly:

The tablets boomed and now are crashing. The volume has really gone down in the last several months. But I think the laptop has something of a revival because it’s becoming more versatile. So, with the two-in-ones, you have the opportunity to have both a tablet and laptop, and that’s appealing to students in particular. So you have an evolution. The boundaries are not as well defined as they used to be.

The line between tablet and laptop have indeed blurred. People are increasingly using tablets and laptops for both work and play. Going forward, I believe the most meaningful market segmentation is not one based on devices (phones, tablets, laptops, desktops), as we tend to do today, but by screen size (2-inches and below, 3- to 6-inches, 7- to 9-inches, 10- to 13-inches, 14- to 17-inches, and above).

From those lens, the positions of the three incumbents — Apple, Microsoft and Google — look different. Apple doesn’t seem as strong; Microsoft still has a chance; and Google just needs to extend its disruption upwards.

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There was an interesting interview recently on Re/code with Best Buy CEO, Hubert Joly.  Joly says all the right things about Best Buy and also had some insights on the PC and tablet market.  Highlights on the latter:

  • PCs are experiencing a revival, partly due to no more Windows XP support
  • Tablet sales are “crashing” and now a replacement market
  • Hybrid 2-in-1s are competitive with tablets
  • PC prices have declined a lot

My hypothesis based on the above is this — the tablet market is about light computing needs and those needs have been mostly addressed.  What do people use tablets for?  Browsing the Internet, reading books, watching movies, playing casual games and perhaps a bit of emailing.  An iPad 2 is sufficiently adequate for those requirements; there’s no pressing need to get an iPad Air.  We often talk about Chromebooks being good enough; so are the earliest iPads and most Android tablets.  Perhaps the only reason to upgrade is to play the latest 3D games but that is more niche than mass market.

Add it all up, and people with tablets are in no hurry to get another.  We saw explosive growth because tablets initially fulfilled an unmet need; but now that need is mostly met, growth is levelling off.

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A story made the rounds a few days ago about Microsoft battling Chromebooks with two cheap Windows PCs. It’s good that Microsoft is taking Chromebooks seriously. It should. It’s a device people with low computing needs might deem good enough. It’s a capable device for mail, web browsing and light office work; and for most people, that’s all they ever need. All for $200 to $350.

But you know what else is excellent for low computing needs? Tablets, which have already been eating into the PC market for years for precisely that reason. If Chromebooks didn’t exist today, I suspect more tablets would have been sold in its place instead of Ultrabooks.

The only thing Chromebooks share with laptops is a keyboard. When your grandparents’ old creaky laptop dies, will you buy them a $200 Chromebook or a $24 keyboard to pair with the $500 iPad they already know how to use?

Lots of really good stuff at Google’s I/O conference.  I’m sure we’ll be delving into Android L and other announcements in more detail in the coming days, but today I’m shooting from the hip and unpacking what caught my attention.

If you haven’t watched it already, see the gargantuan 3 hour keynote here:

My most immediate reaction is “Wow.”  Google is killing it.  Android extends its lead over iOS and Microsoft is way behind in the rear view mirror.

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