Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chromebooks Best Sellers, While Windows 8 Devices Flounder

In my previous post I offered an overview of how holiday sales are going this season.  In this post, I will highlight why I believe consumers choose one type of hardware over another.

The number one best selling laptop on Amazon this holiday season is an ARM-based Chromebook from Samsung. In aggregate, tablets based on Google's Android and Apple's iOS are even bigger sellers. While not the big sellers that tablets are, Apple is still selling plenty of laptops. Laptops and Tablets running Windows 8 are definitely not selling well. The question is why?

Windows 8 is a big part of the problem, but I'll save that for another post.

This post focuses on hardware. Specifically, Intel-based hardware. There is a small amount of Windows 8 ARM-based hardware, but Microsoft messes that up and will be covered in the Windows 8 post.

What differs in the hardware?

No Fan

The ARM-based Chromebook and ARM-based tablets have no need for a fan, the ARM CPU chips generate very little heat. Apple's laptops have aluminum casings that dissipate much of the heat, and Apple is very careful to minimize fan noise and is careful about vent placement.

Most Windows 8 laptops have noisy fans that run nearly constantly. Many of them vent to the bottom of the laptop, ironically making it unusable on your lap. Using it on your lap or in other odd places, is something consumers want to do. (I'm writing this on a Chromebook, laying back in a recliner with the Chromebook on my abdomen. When I try this with my Ultrabook, the vents get blocked and the fan goes crazy.)

Battery Life and Light Weight

These two have to be dealt together. It is possible to make an Intel-based Laptop with great battery life, but you'll have a lot of extra weight from the battery.

ARM-chips use less power and thus need less battery to achieve the same battery life, making the device lighter.  Apple laptops do not have an advantage here, they are as hefty as everyone else's laptop.


Tablets average around $250-$300. (Yes, you paid more for your iPad... that Apple logo is expensive.) The Samsung ARM-based Chromebook costs $249. It is a highly desirable, lightweight design, with good screen, great keyboard and trackpad.  You could make a laptop with a bigger SSD, better camera, etc for $350.  Ubuntu Linux is said to work well on the ARM-based Chromebook. Expect to see Linux ARM-based notebooks soon. Such a notebook would meet the needs of 95%+ of the consumer/SOHO market.

You can buy a $300 Intel-based laptop.  It will have a hideous screen, low-end hard drive, awful track pad, noisy fan, and terrible battery life. The Intel CPU chip will be less powerful than the ARM-based chip in the Chromebook. Intel's high chip prices do not help here. The point is the manufacturers do everything in their power to get you to buy a more expensive model. Again, Apple does not have an advantage here.

A word about CloverTrail. While they are not yet shipping, a line of Windows 8 tablets are supposed to ship using the new Intel CloverTrail chip. It is supposed to have better power usage. It is late in shipping in quantity. Even if it meets the expect power usage, the requirements and costs that Microsoft and Intel put on its usage, guarantees there will be no $300 tablets shipping with it.

Now, is it any wonder that tablets and Chromebooks are selling so well, and Windows 8 laptops and tablets are not?

Why do Apple laptops seem to be an exception?  For some users a higher speed laptop is essential. The Intel laptop vendors play various games, making tradeoffs in hardware quality over a range of prices, but in the end they want you to pay $800 or so (before upgrades). Apple says, here pay $1,000 and we'll give you a system that just works... also, it does not come with Windows 8 (more about that in the Windows 8 post). While I am no fan of Apple's pricing, I must say if I needed the more powerful laptop, I'd probably go with Apple.

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