Google’s Laptop Insurgency

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Throughout the history of comic books there have been two major camps, D.C. and Marvel. Comic book fans were traditional in one or the other. You were either with Spiderman or Superman (or I guess Batman if that’s all you care about). Now there were major fanboy delineations between the two; D.C. was the original and was populated with super powerful beings that seemed unstoppable, whereas Marvel was the upstart whose heroes had human flaws and were written for a slightly older crowd. Through the years third party comic book lines popped up and had their moment in the sun before either fading into obscurity or being acquired by the two on top. But in the 90s the darker, more violent Image Comics came out and thanks to titles “The Maxx” and “Spawn” nearly found a path to establishing a viable third option for fans industry.

The story of Image Comics –nearly rising to the top but falling just short of glory– is a common refrain in many other industries. Dr. Pepper, Dodge/Chrysler, and Reebok are a few brands everyone knows but are definitely not holding the gold or silver metal of their industry. In the world of computer operating systems Windows is D.C. Comics, Apple OS is Marvel, and Google’s Chromebook line is Image. Sure there have been other operating systems such as Linux, Ubuntu, beOS, and OS Warp, but if their window to dominate has passed For generations the overwhelming majority of desktop and laptop users have been using Windows, with the trendy and coveted brand being Apple, and for much of it's short life Chromebooks have been a scrappy thirdplace.

The funky thing about Chromebooks is as a tool represents model of product failed almost exactly the time Google launched its variation. In every practical sense, Chromebooks are netbooks; a type of laptop that is used almost entirely for interacting with the internet and stores very few files and applications on the device itself. For a brief period in late ‘00s Windows tried Netbooks but the product failed so miserably they almost never advertised or mentioned. Traditional desktop and laptops have localized programs and files that allow users to install applications onto sometimes massive amounts of onboard storage. Netbooks were fast and offered immediate access to the internet but that was about it. Chromebooks have mostly overcome that issue because Google’s products are virtually all online.

After it's 90s surge, Image settled in as a comfortable alternative choice to the two towers of the comic book industry, Chromebooks on the other hand is starting to cast off it's bronze status. Since their market debut in June 2011, Chromebooks have steadily climbed the skeptical computing market to become the education tool of choice in school districts across the country and just this year outsell Apple in overall desktop sales. While Apple’s Mac is unquestionably the “cooler” product to have, the Chromebook bested the computing giant in quarter one of 2016 with close to 2 million laptops sold.

With online tools such as Google Drive, Apps for Education, YouTube, and the bargain basement retail price generally below $300 Chromebooks are a nearly perfect student machine. 25 million k-12 students nationwide are currently part of a Chromebook lending program and  almost all of the top 100 public universities in the nation use Apps for Education to build out their education offerings.

While Chromebooks are specialized tools, they are not a niche product. The real target of the Chromebook market is the iPad. Google’s netbook is a great education tool, but once the consumers realize it is a much more powerful tool than an iPad –at a reduced price no less– watchout. That’s when OS kings will really start to worry

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb


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