One in five notebooks sold is now a Chromebok, Microsoft appears desperate to beat Google back

Seemingly out of nowhere Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Chrome OS -- a Linux-kernel based personal computer operating system -- has emerged as a dominant force in the PC market.

I. At Last a True Challenge to the Windows PC Hegemony

According to market share data from the NPD Group Inc. -- a top market research group -- this year has been a rough year for Apple, Inc. (AAPL) in terms of market share, and a mixed year for Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows platfrom.  2013 was a year of unbelieveable growth, as Google's Chrome OS-powered "Chromebooks" emerged as the first compelling mass-market Windows alternative on the budget end in decades, inheriting the legacy of the netbook.

Between Jan. and Nov. 2013 Chromebooks accounted for 9.6 percent share of U.S. sales of all tablets, notebooks, and desktop personal computers combined.  On a year-to-year basis Chromebooks grew 47-fold in sales, a mind-boggling explosion.

That number contrasts harshly with Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) laptop market share trends, which saw a drop from 2.6 to 1.8 percent in the traditional PC market (notebooks + desktops).

Chrome OS
Chrome OS is posting incredible growth.


While tablets continue to fill an increasing role in Americans' electronic lives, both in terms of work and play, the traditional PC (notebooks, desktops) is as relevant as ever in 2013.

Apple was never able to muster a true challenge to the coalition of Windows PC OEMs (at least with regards to market share), leaving Windows free to enjoy hegemony of this crucial market for years.  By contrast Chrome OS seems to have broken through, with Chromebooks now accounting for roughly one in five laptop sales this year.  Key to this surge has been support from OEMs that were once Windows exclusive or nearly Windows exclusive.

HP Chromebook 11 ($279 USD)


America's Hewlett Packard Comp. (HPQ), South Korea's Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930), and Taiwan's Acer, Inc. (TPE:2353) have all rode the Chromebook wave to resurgent notebook sales, amidst the slump in Windows PC sales.

With Chromebooks single-handedly driving personal computer growth and Apple and Microsoft sinking in market share, other OEMs are eageryl jumping on board the Chrome OS train.  ASUSTek Computer Inc. (TPE:2357) and
Toshiba Corp. (TYO:6502) are planning 2014 Chromebook launches. 

Lenovo ThinkPad

Both Dell Inc. and Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG:0992) have announced education-geared Chromebook models (the Dell Chromebook 11 and the Lenovo ThinkPad x131e).  These models are expected to be joined by consumer-aimed models in 2014.  From a big picture perspective, this marks the first time in over two decades that every major Windows PC OEM has backed an alternative platform.

Notebook market shareLaptop sales; Jan.-Nov. 2012/2013 [Data Source: NPD Group]

While iPads -- Apple's biggest "PC" product -- are still outselling ChromeBooks 3-to-2 in the "PC" market, ChromeBooks are outselling Apple roughly 5-to-1 in the U.S. market.  Together 3 out of every 4 PCs sold (approximately) still run Windows.  But of the sales on alternatively platforms, Google controls 5 out of every 6 PCs sold, roughly.

II. U.S. Tablet Sales -- iPad Still King; Windows, Android Give Chase

The iPad's share of the PC market also fell from 17.1 percent to 15.8 percent, cannibalized by Chromebooks and Android tablets.  The fall might have been worse, had it not been for Apple's decision to produce a 7-inch tablet.

Steve Jobs -- Apple's late cofounder and CEO -- infamously remarked in Oct. 2010 at the All Things D conference keynote:

The reason we wouldn't make a 7-inch tablet isn't because we don't want to hit a price point, it's because we don't think you can make a great tablet with a 7-inch screen.  The 7-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad.  [Increasing screen resolution on small devices is] meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size.

There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them.  This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.

Yet in Oct. 2012 Apple produced just such a "tweener" tablet, which its founder had condemned as inferior.  And the market proved Mr. Jobs was entirely wrong.

iPad mini with Retina Display

In tablets Apple also appears to be losing its edge in unit sales in the U.S., the world's most lucrative market.  Both Windows 8.x and Android tablets gobbled up part of the iPad's dominant U.S. market share in 2013, with Windows tablets being the biggest gainer.  Nearly 1 in 10 tablets sold now is a Windows tablet in the U.S.; nearly 1 in 3 is an Android tablet.

Globally Android tablets have passed the iPad, so take these numbers with a grain of salt, although they are meaningful given the U.S remains one of the world's highest margin markets, and trails only China in volume for personal electronics.

2013 Market ShareTablet sales; Jan.-Nov. 2012/2013 [Data Source: NPD Group]

In the tablet market Microsoft, Apple, and Google can all find positive signs in U.S. sales numbers.  For Apple, it may have fallen a bit, but it still controls roughly 6 out of every 10 tablet sales in the world's most lucrative market.

For Microsoft, it's the fast growing market player, even if it still controls less than 1 out of every 10 tablets sold.  For Google steady growth is slowly lofting it towards seizing the sales crown in the tablet market, as it already did internationally in 2013.

III. Desktop Sales -- Still Stronghold for Microsoft

The NPD Group numbers did not break down desktop sales by platform.  While desktop sales (8.5 percent growth) trailed in year-to-year growth versus laptop sales (28.9 percent growth) and tablet sales (49 percent growth) they still represented more than 1 in every 4 devices sold.

PC sales
Desktop PCs still remain a relevant, if a bit diminished market force. [Data Source: NPD Group]

In terms of OEMs HP leveraged its mix of Chrome OS and Windows product to remain #1 in global PC sales.  Meg Whitman's leadership is quietly transforming a company that nearly self-destructed under the suicidal, dysfunctional tenure of Léo Apotheker.

PC market share

Samsung -- which regularly vies with Apple for the top spot in the U.S. smartphone market -- used its impressive Android tablet and Chromebook lineup, along with a lighter mix of Windows product, to seize fourth place.  Its sales grew nearly six-fold.

Lenovo -- second place in terms of U.S. PC sales by OEM -- remains the strongest OEM not to have yet decisively jumped on the Chrome train.  Apple, meanwhile, took third place, largely on the merits of its iPad "PC" sales.

LG Electronics, Inc. (KSC:066570) -- an OEM who hopes to follow Samsung's rise to power in the U.S. market in 2014 -- perhaps gave us a taste of things to come, showing off a Chrome OS powered "Chromebase" desktop PC last week.

Expect "Chromebases" to battle Windows desktops in 2014.

The pricey Mac Pro and budget iMac lines have never posed a serious threat to Windows desktop sales.  Could Chromebases in 2014 follow in the line of Chromebooks' dramatic 2013?  We'll just have to wait and see.

Source: The NPD Group

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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