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Chromebook sales spike. Is it still a 'niche' product?

Chromebook sales will reach 5.2 million in 2014 and are on track to triple by 2017. 

Google.com
The Samsung Series 5 550 is the newest "Chromebook." It's significantly faster than previous laptops running Google's Chrome OS.

Sales of Chromebooks will reach 5.2 million and are expected to triple by 2017, selling as many as 14.4 million units, according to technology research firm Gartner. 

Chromebooks – laptops running Google's Chrome operating system – will see a 79 percent increase in sales from 2013 to 2014, according to a new report released Monday.

Chromebooks can be cheaper than traditional laptops, costing as little as $200, and are mainly meant to be used while connected to the Internet. They do not have much storage space, so most information on a Chromebook is stored in the cloud. All Chromebook applications are available for download from the Google Play store. 

Once a lesser-known, niche laptop, Chromebooks have started to pick up steam among consumers. The report notes that demand for Chromebooks is spurred by the education sector, which took in an estimated 85 percent of all Chromebooks in 2013. 

"Competition in the Chromebook market is intensifying as more vendors launch Chromebooks, with eight models in the market in 2014," says Isabelle Durand, principal analyst at Gartner, in a release. "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." 

In addition to education, the report adds that businesses are beginning to see the merit of Chromebooks. 

"So far, businesses have looked at Chromebooks, but not bought many," say Ms. Durand in the release. "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." 

Samsung dominates the sale of Chromebooks worldwide, with nearly 65 percent of the market share in 2013 – it sold 1.7 million units that year. After Samsung, the Chromebook vendors include Acer, HP, Lenovo, and Dell.

The Gartner report highlights the benefits inherent in a computing device built around cloud storage, particularly as students and businesses work more collaboratively online. Still, it says that Chromebooks will likely not reach a much wider audience within the next five years and will "remain a niche product" as they still need to improve features, such as faster connectivity and memory access. 

"Making a competitive Chromebook is not just a matter of hardware and price; what is most important is to show how the device's cloud-based architecture provides genuine advantages to users," Durand says in the release. 

The global PC market has faced a lull in recent years. Last month, Gartner predicted that 2014 would be a good year for the worldwide PC market – that is, because global PC shipments were poised to contract by (only) 2.9 percent, a vast improvement from the 9.5 percent decrease in 2013. 

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