Pandemic helps Chromebooks outsell MacBooks in 2020: Will the trend continue?

Some news today from research firm IDC as reported by GeekWire confirms prior reports of Chromebooks outselling MacBooks in 2020: Chrome OS laptops earned an estimated 10.8% of market share compared to macOS laptops, which earned 7.5% of sales estimates IDC.

This is the first time I can remember Chrome OS taking more share than macOS over a one-year period. Ever. Although it has happened over a three-month timeframe in the past. But this growth was driven largely by huge laptop demand during the pandemic, which moved many students to remote learning.

So what happens when the world returns to “normal”?

I think the surge in Chromebook sales decelerates for sure, possibly even to a decline in sales that let Apple regain its place. But there are some reasons that Chromebooks could continue to see growth.

I touched upon a key one a few weeks ago when the first 2020 laptop sales estimates came out from Canalys:

So what happens when these students are working on school work at home with their new Chromebook. Some parents, who aren’t Chromebook users, get a first-person view of what a Chromebook can do.

That opens the door to that section of potential Chromebook buyers I mentioned previously: People that haven’t experienced Chrome OS and only know it through inaccurate takes like “it’s just a browser”.

This audience will see that a Chromebook is much more than that, complete with a file system, offline use, fast boot-ups, and seamless updates. They might even see some Android apps in use or the latest tablet mode interface, which is vastly improved since it first arrived.

This can only help raise awareness of what a Chromebook can, and can’t do. It can also dispel some of the long-held, inaccurate beliefs that Chrome OS is “just a browser”. How can “just a browser” get me through a college Computer Science program?

Granted there are some specific gaps that Chromebooks can’t yet feasibly fill: Video and image editing is a sore spot, for example. And while you can run full, native Linux apps on a Chromebook, some people still need certain PC apps. Then again, there’s a solution for that too: See my thoughts on using the new Parallels Desktop for Chrome Enterprise where I have Windows 10 seamlessly running on a Chromebook.

While a Chromebook isn’t the best solution for everyone’s computing needs, even if you’re not a fan, it’s hard to argue that Chrome OS of 2020 is the Chrome OS of 2010. I mean, just look at that first demo from 2009 to see how far the platform has come.

My thought is that Google must be happy with this recent sales trend because it comes at the perfect time, although the cause is a negative one.

Chrome OS has enabled so much more than just a browser at this point. Folks who simply couldn’t use a Chromebook even three years ago now have strong new reasons to consider one. Between Android apps (even if they aren’t optimized), to Linux support, and official Windows options, Chromebooks are now a jack-of-all-trades.

Yes, I know the thought around those: A jack of all trades is the master of none. In the case of Chromebooks though, I’d say they are the master of one thing: Great browsing machines for the web services that the computing world is slowly marching towards.

Update, 9:52am to reflect Chromebooks have outsold Macs previously over a quarter.

5 thoughts on “Pandemic helps Chromebooks outsell MacBooks in 2020: Will the trend continue?

  • February 17, 2021 at 8:40 am

    ❝This is the first time I can remember Chrome OS taking more share than macOS. Ever.❞

    The author may need to qualify the statement in terms of time span. This is the first time measured over an entire year. There have been quarters in which Chromebook has done this before. Also, there’s that argument out there that we need to wait and see what happens when inventory is more plentiful because many desperate people were just buying whatever was left on the shelf after the Windows and Apple devices were all gone.

    • February 17, 2021 at 9:50 am

      Ah, valid point. As the site editor, I will smack the post author. 😉 Will quantify; thanks!

  • February 17, 2021 at 10:13 am

    IMO, if Google wants to maintain this lead and even dream of reaching closer to Windows they need to massively expand the availibility of Chromebooks wordwide.

    AFAIK Chromebooks are still only sold in 18 or 19 countries around the world, only recently being officially released in Spain.

  • February 17, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    First off, no one talk about the “gaps” in ChromeOS without considering the same that exist with M1 Macs. And especially without mentioning that you can do photo and video editing with Krita and Kdenlive (Linux beta, hello?) on ChromeOS.

    Second, you are aware that 17 million Chromebooks sold in 2019 against 18.3 million Macs, right? And that the 22.6 milion Macs that sold in 2020 was the biggest year for Mac sales ever?

    Third: in 2020 we saw an ARM-based Chromebook and a ChromeOS-based tablet (though sadly the same device) take off for the first time in the Lenovo Duet. Please note that the Duet was a consumer-only device and not one geared at the remote learning crowd. More ChromeOS tablets and ARM-based Chromebooks in general – including at least a couple Qualcomm 7cx devices – are on the way for 2021.

    Fourth: in 2020 ChromeOS added virtualization support. Ony Parallels was advertized, but it has been verified that VirtualBox and VMWare Workstation work also. This will increase professional and enterprise adoption.

    Fifth: while we are going to see more ARM ChromeOS devices in 2021, x86 isn’t going to stand pat. 11th gen Intel CPUs – including Core i5 and Core i7 models with Xe GPUs that (Intel claims) provides performance competitive with an entry level Nvidia GPU – hit the market in 2021. (The first reference to an Intel 12th gen CPU board for ChromeOS has been spotted but the device is likely going to ship in 2022.) And what would an Intel Core i5/i7 with the Xe CPU run (beyond Krita and KdenLive)? Steam gaming (with Proton for Windows games) is supposed to arrive by July. No talk of “ChromeOS gaming rigs” of course, but when it happens ChromeOS will finally be a capable native PC gaming platform.

    Now if Google and its partners are actually willing to advertise these developments for a change then yes, it is easy to imagine ChromeOS retaining its lead over macOS. That is a worthy goal because it will mean that app developers will be forced to stop ignoring the platform, even if their main method of targeting it will be via PWAs and Android apps.

  • February 27, 2021 at 6:11 pm

    I think on the future it depends on whether teachers unions think indoctrination can be done adequately remotely. It also depends on how long parents will put up with this nonsense. I’ve bought six chromebooks for a poor family with kids who want to study. It’s a shame they have union teachers who don’t want to teach if they can get paid without it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.