Apple have failed to move OS X substantially forward over the last five years, perhaps because it initially expected the iPad to completely supplant the desktop class device and focused its interests there. In that same period Microsoft has had two substantial swings at redefining its desktop OS. The first, Windows 8 was driven by the same expectation, that tablets would supplant laptops and as a result Windows needed to be more tablet-like. Its second effort dialled that back and Windows 10 became once again a desktop platform with some tablet-like capability.
Now Google has changed the playing field, pushing its Chromebook devices into direct competition with both Windows 10 and Mac OS X. How? By giving it access to the whole Android Play Store. That’s right, one and a half million apps that cover everything from Office through Maps and all points in between.
The argument that a Chromebook was only useful online, or was just a browser can be packed away finally.
Last quarter, as if to add emphasis to Google’s announcement, earlier this week, we discovered that Chromebooks outsold Macs in the United States. That’s an enormous achievement for Google. In case you missed it, Chrome OS is the second biggest selling platform in the US – with the rest of the world to follow shortly no doubt.
Apple will no doubt console itself with the massive profits it makes from selling at the premium end of the market. It should be wary though, some Chromebooks, like the HP Chromebook 13 above, offer a premium experience that rivals anything Apple has at a more attractive price.
For Microsoft there’s a bigger worry. PC sales are falling and OEMs are struggling to keep their heads above water as we see one record market contraction after another. More and more are going to want to try and grab a slice of the Chromebook market if it continues to rise.
For future sales PC buyers are going to suddenly find themselves faced with a difficult decision. Buy a Chromebook and run all of my existing Android apps, as well as exciting new ones that are arriving every day or pick a PC with all the issues around updates and viruses and who knows what else?
Inevitably Windows PC sales will suffer, and for Microsoft that means even more lost licensing revenue. At a time when I’m sure that Microsoft is considering how it can move Windows onto a similar subscription license to Office, the prospect of an accelerated sales decline has to be a worry.