Chromebook 2013 reflections and our expectations for 2014


When a Ballmer-esque, ex. wrestler looking, pawn shop manager tells you your Chromebook sucks, you know that Microsoft feels threatened! Yup, 2013 has been the year when Chromebook has been more prominent than ever! They’ve battled on all fronts, the pixel wars, the high grade/high quality machines vs. the low-key extra portable/higher density screened machines. They’ve tried the path of the ARM processors while also managing to gorge into better low-end(ish) Intel processors as well. They’ve had some flops and but also some well-earned victories.

And, most of all…

They seem to have settled into a better/richer niche of their own making, attracting users that want portability and lightweight-ness, all packed with great overall specced machines. Also, cheap machines that can actually get things done and not break in your lap (yeah, I’m looking at you Surface tablet!), in the $250 – $300 bracket is what 2013 has been all about. So yeah, 2013 has been a good year for Chromebook. So here’s us looking back on the year and asking questions, or just meditating on what has changed. First up, a question:

Are Chromebooks (still) looking for a purpose?

Chromebook from 2013 to 2014
Chromebook from 2013 to 2014

Some would (still) argue that the usability of a Chromebook machine is on the lower end of the spectrum, with many other devices doing some of the same things, but better. For instance, if you’re a real on-the-go user and want to use Google Cloud, nothing stops you from doing it in Windows, in OS X or even in some slates and smartphone platforms.

So, then, how is a Chromebook any more special or better fit for any of these?

Well, here’s a concrete example. Let’s think of the average tablet user: let’s say they have to choose between an iPad or Surface and a Chromebook. Just stick with me for a sec, until I explain why I’m choosing these two seemingly disparate products. You’ll probably be thinking that a slate is not really an on-the-go productivity machine, and you’d be right, but, if, say, you were looking to change the comparison to a, say, MacBook Air and a Chromebook machine, or, indeed, a no-name netbook and a branded Chromebook machine, a couple of issues would arise.

However, the most immediate advantage to a Chromebook user is that if your company is using Google Cloud extensively, there will already have been some manner of additional cloud setups, certain already designed channels of communication and ways of framing your workloads, from the company/employer side. Simply put, framework and set-up, plus step by step instructions and ways to get things done already have a platform on a Chromebook. That allows a (corporate) Chromebook user to pick up his tasks and get them done hassle free.

Also, on a Chromebook, the cloud is immediately available, directly served as needed, with the least amount of, if you will, clicks/work; between you getting the assignments and then getting the job done you’re better prepared on a Chromebook.

Also, admin tasks and network setup is truncated; An admin would always know that the company’s machines are using the same specifications, and that the users interact with the cloud through the same (hardware) platform, sharing similar if not exactly the same parameters, the same environments.

This can reduce the amount of issues arising from users on disparate (hardware and software) platforms, keeps framework issues out of the way, and also, the company can afford to employ fewer hardware maintenance positions.

So, to turn back to my point, what the Chromebook environment does, lightweight and still in its (not quite, anymore!) infancy as it may (have) be(en), is streamline a lot of regular cloud basics, allowing users (companies, in this specific instance) to forgo a lot of cloud specific issues. Because the Chromebook is the perfect cloud machine!

Still, that doesn’t answer my initial question: why an iPad/Surface vs. a Chromebook? Well, because in terms of portability they are similar. Very few netbooks or other very portable machines go for as low as the basic (yet very functional Chromebooks) go for; let’s just look at the most recent Chromebook lineup:

Perfect machines for the road, quite capable processors, all dual core, all multitasking median beauties! Yeah, in the slate department, only the Surface (to which I’d add the suffix Pro!) can even manage an external QWERTY keyboard, to an additional cost and to additional hassle regarding storage. Just think about having to “manage” an external keyboard (ex: avoiding losing it on some faraway train journey!)!

Also, the idea that you can’t get much work done on a Chromebook without internet connection, while partially true, is true for all modern machines. Heck, add all the lineup of current laptops, netbooks, Chromebooks and what have you, and you’ll find out that actual availability of production suites installed on site, on the hardware, doesn’t really make so much of a difference for getting the job done!

Because the work itself is online, the information you need, the communication tools, that forum post that has the answer to that one issue you may have!

Therefore, I would argue that a Chromebook is just as well suited for the actual, real world on-the-go work environment as any other machine; in many ways better suited than any others because it already offers the cloud brickwork/framework that a company may use to easily slide into, set up things as they want to and start being productive. And, as far as hardware is used to get a job done, a Chromebook can be used for entertainment, for lightweight gaming and for lots of other application, while a slate is rarely anything BUT a light entertainment tool!

So, if anything, Chromebook in 2013 has shown that it can be a much more solid slate replacing tool and a great netbook companion for companies to consider. Offering a lot at low prices, offering the security of the cloud, the immediacy of a browser tuned OS, quickly reaching maturity and, also, being more secure than a lot of other high price/high maintenance machines.

The Price Wars

I think that many of us were looking at slates from afar, kind of getting what they were all about, kind of having that snide look towards them. Yeah, they are a cool toy, but when Microsoft comes and calls something like $400 a “competitive price” for a machine that is not a laptop, nor a slate, nor able to run, say the world of applications developed for Android, you kind of notice the disconnect between the statements of the PR people and the actual reality in the field.

So, I would argue, that if Chromebook has won anything in 2013 it has been a war on perception and actually delivering quality on the cheap. Yeah, raising prices artificially, as if laptops and other tech items were (swag infused!) clothing has been Apple’s realm, and lately Microsoft’s. But Chromebook kept things “real” offering lots of varied machines for very low prices, and fewer products that were subpar, granted, if you knew to pick products from reputable hardware developers. Some of the $250 area products can easily stand their ground near MacBook Air or Microsoft slate/netbooks and the like, that cost 3 times more. So, it’s a game where the consumer has to ask himself if he’s willing to pay extra for a logo, or if he just wants a product that works, no thrills, as it may be.

OS wise, 2013 has also shown that, altogether, the question has always been about getting used to an environment, really, as Microsoft Windows 8 has (kind of) flopped, trying to copy some of Chromebook OS’s own moves, making Chrome itself be perceived as the trendsetter. But more about that in a dedicated article; Still, from a tech/hardware point of view, it seems that Chrome is fast becoming a lot more for a lot more people, a more flexible, cheaper, safer and if you’d allow me, a less (or, for that matter, none at all!) bullshit kind of platform!

What do we wish to see in 2014?

Why of course, more on-the-cheap but still highly proficient Chromebook machines!

There’s not a lot we could wish on the hardware front for 2014 from Chrome. Yeah, they tried the high quality/high pixel density machines, and, for the most part, people haven’t found that to be Chrome’s forte. But the median powered, low priced, (a lot!) better than average screen quality and overall good design machines? Yep, that’s what we want to see in 2014, and, why not, a few new non laptop Chrome machines, just for the sake of variety. At any rate, hit use with your comments, share the pains and thrills you went through with your own Chrome machines in 2013 and, last but not least, tell us what you’d expect from us – in 2014! Happy Holydays, everybody (you too, Mr. Ballmer!) !

  1. Ruben Casillas says

    I and a lot of other people would like to see a mid-range Chromebook. If we’re going to spend money on a laptop that is usually reserved for a windows laptop ($500-$700) why not have it be a Chromebook? Ideally, it would have a 1080p screen, 4gb of ram, 64gb sad, and at least a 7 hour battery life. Current Chromebooks are great but some of us need that extra oomph.

    1. Andrew Baker says

      It’s coming… keep your eyes open for this in 2014. Manufacturers can’t ignore the demand for Chromebooks in this price range!

      1. Ruben Casillas says

        Great! Thanks for the response :). I expect amazing things from Google in general in 2024

        1. Ruben Casillas says

          I mean 2014, haha. In 2024 maybe we’ll have our own robots by then (not completely a joke, as Google recently purchased the DARPA funded company, Boston Dynamics.

    2. Joe Montfort says

      I’d like to see a midrange Chromebook too, even though extra oomph is not what I have in mind. (I’ve gotten along quite well with a Samsung ARM-equipped Chromebook.)

      For a lightweight OS that is for all practical purposes a thin client, clock speeds, storage, and memory aren’t as big factors as they are with Windows PCs. I think there are sales to be had by offering a Chromebooks with larger screens, better materials and assembly quality, better aesthetics, lighted keyboards, and physical attributes that people can immediately see and feel when they use it, even for the routine tasks that don’t require a great deal of computing grunt or massive local storage. Whether you love or hate Apple, they’ve sold a lot of MacBooks because of the appearance and build quality, and I think HP, Lenovo, Dell, et. al. should maybe take a page from that book.

  2. Ruben Casillas says

    64gb ssd*

  3. Stephane says

    What I expect is not really on the hardware side. For sure, touch screens will be more widely available, better screens, backlighted keyboard… but all of them are small changes.

    What I expect more is on the software side of the machine : ChromeOS. For now, Chromebooks are able to work with the following protocols : http, ftp (download only), ssh (using crosh). I would like to also have native full ftp (download & upload) and samba (for accessing Windows home networks).

    1. Andrew Baker says

      Thanks for your comment, Stephane. As software evolves, the hardware will become better, but as the hardware becomes better, the software will keep up to take full advantage of it too. Fact is that they will both improve so that’s a good thing! 🙂

  4. Conrad Dunkerson says

    To me it is all about Chrome apps now. Google has made Chrome apps able to run, offline no less, on Android, Windows, iOS, and Mac OS so long as the Chrome ‘browser’ (aka Chrome OS lite) is installed. That means developers can build a Chrome app and it can be run on virtually every modern computing device from that single code base.

    If Google can continue to improve the capabilities and performance of Chrome apps (c.f. portable native client) and get some developers to actually build some impressive apps for Chrome there is now a very real possibility that many people will go from spending MOST of their time on the web (and more often in the Chrome browser than any other) to NEARLY ALL of their computing time with Chrome browsing and apps. At which point Android, Windows, iOS, and Mac OS could become just different means of installing the Chrome browser/OS and Chrome apps… and then all machines would really be Chrome OS machines and the only reason to buy anything else would be if you had some highly specialized application that is only available for that platform. Even that situation would be temporary if Chrome apps really take off.

    The day is coming when there will be no ‘offline’ time for most people. It is already here for many and growing quickly. When that happens web applications will inevitably become dominant. Chrome is the only major OS which is ready for that change. Google introduced offline apps to help sell Chrome in the interim, but they kept these ‘offline’ apps centered on web technologies… they can be run online with the same code. Windows and Mac are still heavily focused on native apps. Even Android and iOS phones, which are useless as PHONES if they aren’t connected, primarily use locally installed apps. Only Chrome is built for the coming connected world.

    1. Andrew Baker says

      You make an interesting point, Conrad.

      We’re seeing that more and more (business/gaming/entertainment) applications that run on Windows or Mac OS require an internet connection anyway.

      Internet has become such an integrated part of our daily lives that most people would be lost without an internet connection, regardless of the OS they’re using…

  5. Maxime Sierro says

    I really would like to see Chromebooks with better specs, more “deluxe” Chromebooks, exactly like the Nexus smartphones : high end machines with an honest price. I would definitely use 450$ for a Chromebook with a screen like the Nexus 10, and a processor able to stream videos at 1080p or more ! (sry 4 my bad english lul)

    1. Andrew Baker says

      I think there is certainly room for more Chromebooks in that price range. We’ll see what new models 2014 will bring us!

      1. Maxime Sierro says

        Thanks fot the answer !

  6. Peter says

    Unless I missed a reply, I haven’t seen anyone request a CD/DVD drive. I still own DVDs that I’d like to watch on my laptop/notebook. Is that a possibly for future Chromebooks?

    1. Ruben Casillas says

      I highly doubt that will ever happen as so much emphasis is put on cloud computing when it comes to Chromebooks. And Chromebooks are known for being sleek, quiet, minimalistic but functional machines. To have a basically purely mechanical system such as a cd/dvd player on one is almost anti-chromebook. But one can dream.

  7. John Beebe says

    My son has a Samsung CB was not impressed by it at all, he loves it aside from the fact you cant play Minecraft on it. Got to use my bother in laws brand new Acer and wow so much better but still as a photographer I need my MB Pro, online editing is still not there for me and there are still many parts of the my state that have no Wifi or they throttle the connection, (Im looking at you Royal Sonesta), to get you to pay for high speed.

    I see the day coming though and as I said I was most impressed with his Acer.

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