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Chromebooks to break out of US schools: Netbook 2.0 comeback not just for children

Google-powered laptops in ... except if you want to buy them from Dell, it seems

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It may be a niche, but the market for Chromebooks will grow, according to research company Gartner. The analyst has predicted 5.2 million of the Google OS-powered laptops will be sold this year.

Not only that, but the number-crunchers also reckon sales will nearly triple by 2017. That growth will come from Chromebooks breaking out of the educational market and into the real world, they say.

"Competition in the Chromebook market is intensifying as more vendors launch Chromebooks, with eight models in the market in 2014," said Isabelle Durand, principal analyst at Gartner. "Now that the PC market is no longer growing strongly, vendors are searching for new business opportunities. They launched Chromebooks to revive interest in sub-$300 portable PCs once the netbook bubble had burst."

Of course, Gartner explicitly failed to spot that particular bubble bursting. A quick look at the Dell UK and US websites shows precisely no Chromebooks available for sale at the time of writing, with one listed but out of stock in the UK and listed as “no longer available for purchase online” in the US.

Gartner says that demand for Chromebooks is mainly driven by the American education sector, which it estimates accounted for nearly 85 per cent of Chromebook sales in 2013. North America accounted for 2.9 million Chromebooks sold during 2013, or 82 per cent of all the machines sold.

"So far, businesses have looked at Chromebooks, but not bought many," said Ms. Durand. "By adopting Chromebooks and cloud computing, businesses can benefit; they can shift their focus from managing devices to managing something much more important — their data."

It’s hard to see the merit in this, with Microsoft already shipping its Aldi-priced Windows 8.1 with Bing devices, such as the Dell Inspiron 15 at $249.

Acer, however, seems convinced of the Gartner view and has launched the Chromebook 13, a machine with a 13.3” display offering two versions: one at 1920x1080 resolution and another model with a 1366x768 display. What makes the new Acer special is that it’s the first device to use the NVIDIA Tegra K1 mobile processor.

The Acer Chromebook 13 CB5-311, with the lower resolution screen, has an RRP of €279 and has 802.11ac, 2GB of memory and a 16GB SSDrive. It’s 1.7 cm thick and weighs 1.5 kg. The high performance graphics are doubtless impressive but you have to wonder how many of the target Chrome customers really want to play FPSes.

Gartner’s predictions seem uncomfortably bullish unless the rising stars of the mobile industry can be brought on board for Xiaomi and Huawei to go Chrome. ®

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