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It is interesting to note that the CES rebellion is backed by Intel. Obviously, the chip maker and some PC makers are getting a bit tired of slumping PC sales and a Microsoft that appears clueless about how to stop this development.
I have been predicting for quite a while that Android will come to the PC, and my theory so far was that this hasn’t yet happened because the Google founders are obsessed with the Web. Instead of pushing Android to become a real Windows competitor, they believe that the dominant OS of the future is the Web.
I am not really a friend of Chromebooks. You can imagine how surprised I was when I read that in the NPD report. Note that this 21 percent pertains to preconfigured notebooks, but I guess only a few laptops are delivered without an OS. To put this in perspective, this is significantly more than the iPhone’s global share of the smartphone market.
I think this recent success of Chromebooks can be explained by two facts. Fact 1 is that Chromebooks are much cheaper than Windows notebooks. If you have a look at Amazon’s Laptop Best Seller list, you will notice that an Acer Chromebook for $199 leads and is trailed by a Windows convertible for more than twice the price. This Acer Chromebook is no runaway. A few weeks ago, a Samsung Chromebook—which is now in third place—topped the list.
Fact 2 is that more and more people just need one app on their PCs. In fact, I really wonder why Facebook hasn’t yet brought out its own device. Of course, this gadget would be good for only one thing, and, if it only cost $99, it would probably not take long until it would be in the top 10. Considering that you can run apps on Facebook, it could become a full-blown OS in the long run.
It is easy to predict how Microsoft will react to the CES rebellion. You don’t need to be a prophet to foresee what it means in the long run for Windows if Windows apps compete with Android apps on the same machine. Why would developers still write Windows programs if they know that Android apps run on the vast majority of computers? Wouldn’t it be great, from a programmer’s point of view, if an app could run on almost all phones, tablets, and PCs? It would only be a matter of time that Windows would no longer be needed.
PC makers must be aware of this, so I believe the rebels don’t really address Microsoft with this proposal. I think what they really want is to convince Google to push Android on the PC. The success of Chromebooks is nice for Google, but it is not really nice for computer vendors because the profit margins of these cheap notebooks are extremely thin.
A client OS, where most of the horsepower comes from machines in the cloud, is not what PC manufacturers want. The cloud utilizes compute capacity far more efficiently than do the Windows PCs in our living rooms and offices. PC makers earned billions year after year by selling unused computing power.
Like Windows, Android needs vast resources locally, and it is therefore a better choice from a hardware maker’s point of view. It would distract Google from Chrome OS and, once Android is a major player in the PC market, the Google founders might even give up the dream of a web OS.
Profit margins of PC makers put aside, I believe that Android is also the better choice for PC buyers because, even though you have to buy a machine that is overpowered in the sense that it is idle most of the time, you can utilize its power in your Facebook free time and run a superior user interface with graphics-intensive apps that don’t work on the Web.
And what does this all mean for the future of Windows? I think we have to pose this question to Microsoft’s next CEO. Running TV commercials that just bash Chromebooks is certainly not the answer. One thing is for sure; the answer cannot come from a sales and marketing geek but only from a real tech geek.
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What would be your answer to the Android and Chrome OS threat?