US Chromebook sales rose sharply to almost five million in 2014, boosted by software initiatives such as Google’s Apps for Education, market analysis firm ABI Research has reported.

This represents a 235 percent growth rate on 2013’s figure of around two million units, which sceptics will doubtless point out is an impressive rise from an incredibly low base.

Image: Google
Image: Google

“The rollout of cloud services and the 2009 global economic collapse created the opportunity for developers to provide a budget-friendly solution for consumers,” said ABI Research’s Stephanie Van Vactor.

“Chromebooks were the result, and the ‘anytime anywhere’ access to content is a mobile-centric game changer.”

It’s an interesting perspective – low-cost Chromebooks are the credit crunch computer. It's also true that Chromebooks are true cloud computers which gives them some major advantages over PCs, particularly in terms of easy privisioning and security.

According to the firm, the average US household could buy one of Google’s cloud computers for less than a day of household income with the average selling price through the year being $266 (£177). This compared to the average selling price for a tablet of $420.

“Google has taken to heart the popularity of mobile devices and developed a personal computing device that is a functional mobile solution,” said Van Vactor.

“This style of computing works for the on-the-go lifestyle people are becoming accustomed to and will continue to impact the future of computing as the market shifts and changes.”

The issue of Chromebook sales is a fractious one with some commentators ridiculing what appear to be small sales compared to PCs. On the other hand, PCs are sold in every country on earth whereas Chromebooks are only available in a handful. Even where they are available, they often take months to appear in channels in some countries which slows sales.

What is clear is that Chromebooks have colonised an education sector once dominated by Microsoft products, something which is having some knock-on effect on the kinds of software being used there. That as much as anything is why Microsoft decided to fight back with the Windows for Bing initiative which saw it waive the license fee for low-cost Windows machines in an attempt to win some sales.

Microsoft can cede license fees for a few million laptops but what it can't do is see its once profitable and steady sales of application software decline in that sector as well. 

ABI said it believed that 62 percent of US Chromebooks sales were now to education, with the remainder to consumers and a smaller but growing percentage in business.

The credibility of Chromebooks as a business platform is slowly improving as enterprise features appear as an option in products from firms such as Dell Kace. Other innovations have included more rugged designs suited to mobile use. 

In the UK, Chromebooks have been less of a hit, hindered by relatively high prices and slow availabiility of some models. Popular machines that sell for around $200 in the US will often cost the equivalent of $300 (£200) or more in Britain. Meanwhile the more conservative UK education sector has been slower to embrace the platform.

As Microsoft is well aware, with public sector cuts likely to hit after the General Election, that could all change quite rapidly.