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I Am 100% Certain That Google Chromebooks Did Not Take 21% of the Notebook Market

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NPD's recent statistics on the Chromebook market aren't painting a clear picture of the situation.

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You can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.
--Homer Simpson

I don't care what all those headlines are telling you, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chromebooks did not account for 21% of US notebook sales this year.

Anyone who tells you otherwise has no appreciation for details or fine print.

Wait, what are we talking about here?

On December 23, market research firm NPD issued a press release detailing computing device trends, the most compelling of which was a boom in Google Chromebook sales.

Year-to-date through November, Chromebooks accounted for 21% of notebook sales and 8% of overall computer and tablet sales, up from basically nothing in 2012.

Twenty-One Percent of... Come Again?

I won't name names here, but I'm seeing a lot of cheap headlines floating around that are flat out declaring that Chromebooks took 21% of the notebook market.

What most tech reporters don't bother to explain is that NPD clearly says its measurement base is what it calls "US commercial channels." I emailed an NPD representative to ask exactly what this means, and was told that it's comprised of "US B2B sales using distribution partners."

That, my friends, is not exactly the global notebook market, or even the US one for that matter.

Interestingly enough, in its opening sentence, NPD noted that it had tracked sales of 14.4 million desktops, notebooks, and tablets through US commercial channels.

That's a very small piece of the overall PC and tablet pie.

There were 16.1 million US PC sales in Q3 alone, according to Gartner. US tablet sales data is not easy to come by, but you get the point -- this is not a comprehensive data set. But it is clearly labeled for what it is, and thus a lot of the headlines you're seeing are completely out of whack.

I'm not a Google Chromebook hater. To the contrary, I'm very supportive of the concept and have highlighted its success in the past.

And make no mistake about it, I do think the NPD report is actually very good news for Google, but only because of what it actually represents: business-to-business sales.

I've always thought that the Chromebook would succeed with consumers open to a "so cheap it's almost disposable" alternative to the traditional PC.

After all, since computing activities increasingly revolve around browser/app-based activities like Web surfing, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), and email, the need for a full-featured computer simply isn't what it used to be.

But businesses buying Chromebooks means a whole new market opening up, and could also mean...

Scroogling Back

With its Scroogled campaign, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) took on the task of telling the world about every allegedly bad thing Google's ever done.

The limited functionality of Chromebooks and the Chrome OS are front and center on Scroogled.com, which is chock full of statements like these:

Get ready for some weird-looking documents on Chromebook.

Chromebook can't install Office and that's where the problems begin. Many of your documents (like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) will often appear with wacky formatting because Chromebook uses cheap imitations of Office. So the user gets poor substitutes for the real thing. Which describes Chromebook in a nutshell.

With Chrome OS, you're restricted by design.

Here's yet another thing you don't get with Chrome OS: the ability to connect directly to most printers and scanners, and the ability to sync with many smartphones, MP3 players, and cameras. All of which adds up to a giant, Chrome OS design flaw.

While Microsoft's having some fun here, Google has more evidence that Chromebooks are having some success out in the marketplace, and it also fuels the idea that the real foundation of Scroogled is sour grapes.

The Truth Is Still Out There

So how much of the PC market do Chromebooks actually have?

More than last year, yes, but that's all we know. In short, ignore the snappy but simplistic headlines.

Also see:

Hackers Can Watch You Through Your Webcam -- Even on Newer Computers

Google's Chromecast: My Favorite Gadget of 2013

BlackBerry Users Can't Stop, Won't Stop


Twitter: @Minyanville

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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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