Sales of Google's Chromebooks are set to triple in the next three years as demand increases among enterprise businesses globally, according to analyst firm Gartner.
While the budget Chrome OS laptops are expected to remain "niche" for the next five years, a slowdown in the PC market will contribute to sales of Chromebooks reaching 14.4 million units in 2017, Gartner predicted.
Approximately 5.2 million units are expected to be shifted this year, up 79 percent from 2013, with the majority being sold in North America, particularly in the education sector.
For example, Bridgeport Public Schoolspurchased one million devices in the second quarter of 2014, including a mix of Samsung, Acer and HP hardware.
However, report author Gartner principal analyst Isabelle Durand said that future growth of the budget devices will be driven in part by adoption across other vertical markets, such as banking and the services industry.
"So far, businesses have looked at Chromebooks, but not bought many," said Durand. "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."
While there have been some deployments of Chromebooks by UK enterprises, including one local councilreplacing XP with the devices, interest has not been as high as in the US so far.
Durand argues that, to reach a wider audience, hardware vendors need to offer better features that address cloud-based usage patterns. This includes faster connectivity, faster memory access, faster and larger solid-state drives, and strong user support, she said. Some vendors have begun provide more powerful products, however, with Acer now shipping Chromebooks with Intel Core i3 chips, as well asenabling 4K graphics.
The report shows that Samsung currently leads the market globally with a 64.9 percent share, selling 1.7 million units in 2013. Acer is second placed, 31.4 percent, with HP in third, 6.8 percent.
"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 said.
However, the devices have become more enterprise-friendly in recent months, with VMware announcing in February it will offer virtual desktop services on Chromebooks for example, allowing it to run Windows applications. This could save organisations as much as $5,000 per computer by using a combination of Chromebooks and VMware managed services, Google has estimated.
The growing interest in the platform has been a concern for Microsoft, threatening to displace its Windows operating system in the workplace. Last month, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner announced the company and its OEM partners wouldcompete on price with Chromebooks, which can cost as little as £179 in the UK.
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