Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, agreed. "Chromebooks have a future in business," he said. "Their near-term future is as location-specific devices, where someone doesn't need the complexity of Windows but does need a keyboard."
Microsoft certainly sees Chromebooks as a threat, even at the latter's low shipment levels. It's run anti-Chromebook advertisements, of course, but more importantly, last month pledged to "redefine the value category" with notebooks as inexpensive as $199.
That low-priced strategy will be driven by several initiatives, including Windows 8.1 with Bing, a free or heavily-discounted Windows license; and an already-made tweak to Windows 8.1 so it can be shoehorned into devices with as little as 1GB of system memory.
"Microsoft does see a kind of threat from Chromebooks, and their low-cost notebooks plan is meant to compete with Chromebooks," Durand confirmed.
How much of a threat Chromebooks pose is unclear. Five percent is, well, five percent, and Windows is already pressed as a revenue stream because of the downturn in new PC sales. But then again, five percent? That seems unlikely to really put Microsoft in a pinch.
Durand seemed to agree, dubbing Chromebooks, even over the next five years as sales grow, a "niche market."
Google might be able to boost sales even more if it expanded distribution. In 2013, 82% of the Chromebooks sold were to North American customers. In Europe, said Durand — who is based in France — Chromebooks are "very limited." But they're also sold primarily to consumers, unlike in North America, where 85% of last year's devices went to education.
"It's possible that 2014 sales will be higher than our current forecast," said Durand, "and that the consumer market could play a part." She cited higher-than-expected sales in the second quarter and Dell's Chromebook 11 as data points for her qualified optimism. Last month the Texas company stopped selling the laptop through its online store, citing "strong demand." Dell has not yet restored the Chromebook 11 to the store.
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