Are Google's Chromebooks a sales hit? So far, the analysts can't say

Sales are growing but estimates still diverge

Google shifted a paltry 2.1 million Chromebooks in 2013, a figure that could still grow to 11 million per annum by 2019, new figures from US outfit ABI Research have predicted.

The firm doesn't explain its methodology, nor how it performed the tricky feat of estimating non-US sales which it believes accounted for 11 percent of the 2.1 million figure. It has pencilled in an annualised growth rate of 28 percent between now and 2019.

"ABI Research tracked Chromebooks across six regions and found the average selling price to be $338 (£204)," said ABI analyst Stephanie Van Vactor. "This truly budget-driven device is a disruptive force to the portable PC market."

This contrasted with minimal growth for Windows portables in the final quarter of 2013, she added.

There have been numerous attempts to estimate the growth in Chromebooks, but the 2.1 million figure is below local estimates from the country in which Google's computers are made, Taiwan. There, sources close to vendors put the expected total for 2014 as being around 4-5 million globally. ABI's numbers imply something closer to half that.

That doesn't sound very significant but could still be equivalent to around 20 percent of all US laptop if figures released by rival analyst NPD before Christmas are anything to go by.

The difficulty, of course, is that Chromebooks start from a low base, something the analysts find inherently hard to estimate across numerous countries. Some of these sales come through Google, which doesn't release numbers, and conventional stores, that rarely break them down either.

Historically, computer devices need to break through the 10 million barrier to start lighting up the channel figures with any accuracy. Unlike netbooks - these sold around 30 million per annum in 2012 - Chromebooks have to compete not only with Windows laptops but other cheap mobile devices such as tablets, which is depressing growth.

The other limitation of Chromebooks thus far has been their consumer orientation but that could be changing as cloud applications such as Google Apps take hold.

In the UK, with huge cost pressures bearing down on government, it is interesting that Barking and Dagenham Council decided to replace its Windows XP base with Chromebooks, a marker that the perception of the platform is changing rapidly. The deal will see 2,000 deployed by June this year.

If this cost-saving mindset starts to eat into the Windows business market, Microsoft could have a small battle on its hands. Chromebooks started with developers and Linux buffs, moved into the US education sector and is now finding its way into the enterprise. The 2014 figures might record whether this amounts to a movement or just another non-Windows niche.

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