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Chromebooks now the fastest-growing segment of PC market

Nearly one in four laptops under $300 is a Google gizmo

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Not only are Google's Chromebooks a success, but they are now the fastest-growing segment of the PC industry, according to market research firm NPD Group.

"While we were skeptical initially, I think Chromebooks definitely have found a niche in the marketplace," NPD analyst Stephen Baker told Bloomberg.

Baker says that in the past eight months, Google's browser-based devices have managed to capture 20 to 25 per cent of the US market for laptops that cost less than $300. This, amid an industry-wide downturn that has IDC analysts predicting a 7.8 per cent decline in overall PC sales in 2013.

If there has been any optimism about the hardware business of late, it has mostly focused on tablets, which IDC has forecast will outsell portable PCs for the first time this year.

But if tablets are all that consumers want, the news hasn't made it to Google's Chromebook division, which continues to market what are essentially ordinary low-cost notebooks, albeit ones running an unusual OS.

"We're seeing tremendous growth, without a doubt – massive, massive growth," Chromebook product development manager Caesar Sengupta told Bloomberg.

Part of that growth is doubtless due to Google's recent retail push. Chromebooks are now available in Best Buy, Fry's, Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Walmart stores in the US, as well as from online retailers Amazon and TigerDirect. In all, the devices are now on sale in nearly 7,000 retail outlets.

The Chromebook line is expanding, as well. Acer, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung all manufacture Chromebooks today, with Asus expected to follow suit in the second half of the year. Google even markets its own branded model, the upmarket Chromebook Pixel, with a 2560-by-1700 touchscreen that puts even Apple's vaunted Retina Displays to shame.

The Pixel retails for $1,300, but it's the exception. Each of the other Chromebook models sells for less than $500 in the US, with the cheapest, the Acer C7, going for just $199.

Those low prices have helped keep the devices at the front of Amazon's laptop best-seller list, where the Samsung Chromebook has remained in the top 100 for the last 259 days (and counting).

Google has also marketed Chromebooks aggressively to the education market, with special discount programs and management tools designed for school administrators. Lenovo's Chromebook product is targeted specifically at education.

NPD's Baker said all this points to a bright future for the Chocolate Factory's boot-to-browser devices, with the market for low-cost laptops projected to grow by more than 10 per cent in 2013.

"The entire computing ecosystem is undergoing some radical change, and I think Google has its part in that change," Baker said. ®

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