Chilling Chromebook

Over the weekend, I got email from developer Jeff Nelson with his blog response to my BetaNews story: “Chromebook belongs to computing’s past, not its future“. He is among a majority of responders who disagree with my assessments about the future of PCs depending on keyboard and mouse.

Today’s Android Wear platform announcement foreshadows exactly where computing is headed. For longer perspective, please see my book The Principles of Disruptive Design. But suffice to say that Google champions “Star Trek”-like computing, where you—by sight, sound, touch, and voice—are the user interface.

Below, I share my response to him, which has little to do with his arguments but more about the reason for my current public position about Chromebook. I started the year by publishing book Chromebook Matters, which is very positive about the browser-laptop concept. My stories since are more negative, such as “Twenty-Fourteen isn’t Year of Chromebook“. (Added links benefit readers here; they don’t appear in the comment-response to Jeff.)

Thanks for the email and link to the post.

Please take a look at the majority of my writings about Chromebook, which are more in line with what you write in your post and also with the tone of my book, which I presume you haven’t read based on your blog post.

My writing style is to look at topics from different perspectives, and I take the more negative vantage when my colleagues in the news media start sounding an Echo Chamber. My recent Chromebook posts are meant to counterbalance sudden media fan frenzy—bloggers and journalists relating the same points of view because they think it’s vogue.

I have a reputation for being anti-Apple, which I am not, for similar reason. When Apple was the tech press’ darling, I wrote harder stories.

That said, Chrome OS is an aberration. No other new PC operating system succeeded after Windows 3.1’s release ( Mac OS came earlier). Even Linux is largely confined to servers. Microsoft’s monopoly is insurmountable for many reasons, with the applications barrier to entry being right near the top. People don’t buy a new OS without apps, and developers don’t create them without adoption. It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario Chrome OS beats because Google brings so many apps and services and the browser is an established app platform, while being a familiar motif for user interface. No wonder there is amazement among tech bloggers and journalists.

As for mice and keyboards, they are familiar but unnatural constructions. The most valuable user interface is you. Your fingers, voice, and eyes.

I know lots of small business people who never use computers, but depend on smartphones every day. In emerging markets, Gartner, IDC, and other analyst firms say that the first Internet-capable device purchased is typically a phone. In 2013, the second switched to tablet from PC. What sometimes is referred to as “technology skip” is common phenomenon, where users in a new market jump over one product category for another. That’s the pattern with PCs.

I really appreciate your thoughtful response and do agree with many of your points.

My posts about Chromebook will continue to be, from fan’s perspectives, somewhat bleak. Across blogs and news sites, I see new rah-rah posts about the laptop every day. There is too much me-too enthusiasm, rather than real reporting. There absolutely is a usage case for Chromebook, which success so far is odds-defying against the mighty Microsoft monopoly. But real world adoption is low, something too often ignored by the parade of “Chromebook is computing’s future” stories.

Garter “excludes Chromebooks” from its quarterly PC shipment assessment. IDC puts fourth-quarter Chromebook shipments at about 1 percent of all desktops and laptops, globally.

I’m a Chromebook-concept fan, but cool my enthusiasm against so much misguided reporting overstating success. Who spiked the Kool-Aid? Because too many bloggers and journalists drink it.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears on BetaNews.