No more Google Chromebooks? If true, it’s not all “doom and gloom”.

It’s not confirmed yet but earlier today, Business Insider reported that dozens of Google employees in its hardware department responsible for Made By Google Chrome OS devices have been asked to move on to different areas of the company. I know a few of those folks – they’re exceptionally smart – and if this is true, I hope that any negative impact is minimized on them.

There were plenty of hot takes on this report, as expected. But a hot take is like a single ice skater on a frozen river: On the surface, it’s obvious what’s going on but below the ice there’s a teeming plethora of still swimming fish. Put another way: Nobody outside of Google really knows what’s happening here, what the reasons might be or what the impacts are.

I don’t know either, so don’t get your hopes up. And my intent isn’t to “spin” potentially bad news here.

Instead, it’s to try and dip my head under the ice surface and think about the various possibilities. Among them are some positive thoughts and potential outcomes, so freezing water aside, let’s dive in.

Pixelbook angled

For perspective, you have to realize that Google is a publicly traded company. As such, it has an obligation to provide a return on investments from its shareholders. Gone are the days of throwing cash and talent at various projects by a private company to see what works. So any potential cuts in areas which aren’t financially viable is a responsible action. And this isn’t exactly new. During my time at Google back in 2016 and 2017, I often heard about more fiscal responsibility across many efforts.

So let’s talk about the reported information and, for now, assume the worst: It’s true and Google is, at least for now, getting out of the Google-branded hardware market for Chromebooks.

  • I’d still expect the Pixelbook 2, likely the Atlas device, to debut this fall alongside new Pixel phones. Atlas has been in the works for far too long at this point to suddenly disappear. Some folks have been holding out for an updated Pixelbook so they’ll likely be happy.
  • Current Google Chromebooks and the Pixel Slate will still, of course, work. It’s not as if some central servers disappear, rending the devices useless. In fact, all new Chrome OS devices have a 6.5-year automatic update support life. That wouldn’t change.
  • High-end Made By Google Chrome devices have already served a huge purpose: They showed companies such as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo that some people are willing to pay a premium price for a premium Chromebook experience. That wasn’t the case when either the Chromebook Pixel models nor the Pixelbook launched: At that point, if you wanted a powerful Chromebook you could pick any model so long as Google made it. Now you can get Pixelbook performance from Google hardware partners and pay less than Pixelbook pricing.
  • Google still has a massive hand in Chrome OS hardware because its partners don’t simply throw Chrome OS on any old motherboard, processor and display combination. Through the Chromium team, Google literally builds and modifies Chrome OS to work optimally on specific hardware which its partners then produce en masse. And frankly, those device makers likely get components for much less than Google pays since they sell tens of millions of computers yearly. And reallocating resources to helping hardware partners could improve the Chrome OS experience for all devices.
  • Chrome OS devices aren’t going away. Google is committed to Chrome OS because it’s their edge play against Windows and macOS. And these devices can bring in revenue through software and services, particularly in enterprises and small/medium businesses. Want a managed Chrome OS device in your office? That’ll be $50 a year per device at work or $30 per managed device in a classroom, thank you. Oh, and if you want to use GSuite — one of the main reasons for a Chromebook in business — that’s another $25 per user, per month in the enterprise. Add it up and you can see that software and services quickly make back far more than razor thin margins on hardware in a short time.
  • Current Made By Google exclusive features could become available to all Chrome OS partners. Yes, you might see new Chromebooks with a dedicated Google Assistant key, for example, which is good for all device owners. We’ve already seen this with the native Google Assistant service moving beyond Google devices.
  • Leaving the direct hardware market could be a temporary action. The Nexus phone line disappeared only to be replaced by the Pixel phones, which have slowly improved both in capabilities and hardware sales.

All in all, if the report is true, there’s actually very little negative impact on Chrome OS as a whole, save for a lack of Made by Google devices going forward. Those possibly affected are folks like me who prefer to use Google hardware such as my Pixel Slate.

Multiple Chrome tabs, a PWA, Google Play Music Android app and Linux humming along.

For the rest of the Chromebook world, it’s likely business as usual. Let’s wait and see how this shakes out and what Google says about it — either directly or indirectly through product announcements — before jumping to the “doom and gloom” perspective.

13 thoughts on “No more Google Chromebooks? If true, it’s not all “doom and gloom”.

  • March 13, 2019 at 5:13 pm
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    Business Insider often seems like a reliable source of yellow journalism. I doubt there is any more truth to this claim about No more Google Chromebooks than there was truth about the 1080p c630 going away – of course the i3 c630 has been back in stock (at Lenovo United States) and available to order (from Lenovo United States) for several days.

    Reply
    • March 23, 2019 at 10:12 pm
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      Thanks for saying that about Business Insider. I’ve always thought that. I never had the courage to say that online. They always seem like people who want to short something.

      Reply
  • March 13, 2019 at 5:26 pm
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    Maybe Google leadership decided that device lines like the Pixel and Pixelbook have sufficiently fulfilled their mission and thus their raison d’être. When someone says “Android,” everyone immediately thinks “Samsung.” And Acer, Asus, HP, and Lenovo have demonstrated a certain amount of independent innovation with Chromebooks. Google probably want to avoid the appearance of competing too hard against the companies that sell hardware based on Google operating systems. And, who knows? A shift in focus to Google Fuchsia may also be at play.

    Reply
  • March 13, 2019 at 6:29 pm
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    I’m just bracing for another (3rd?) wave of “Chrome OS is being replaced by [Android / Fuchsia]” and “oh, I thought Google cancelled Chrome OS” etc.

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    • March 13, 2019 at 8:21 pm
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      Good point, Shia LaBeouf.

      Reply
  • March 14, 2019 at 5:11 pm
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    I would seriously doubt this one. As of 7 years ago chromebooks comprised less than 1% of the sale of new computers to all US School Systems. Now, chromebooks comprise over 60% of all sales to all US School Systems which amounts to about 36,000 new chromebooks per school day. Add to that the fact that EVERYONE now has a chromebook, they aren’t going away anytime soon.

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    • March 14, 2019 at 7:29 pm
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      EVERYONE ?? You mean everyone outside of the US where sales are almost non existent. Even in the US sales of Chromebooks outside of education are not that great. So I am not sure what you mean by Everyone now has one.

      Reply
  • March 14, 2019 at 7:31 pm
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    I don’t understand the comment that the Pixelbook has served its purpose. We keep hearing over and over again that Google is SERIOUS about hardware. This doesn’t look serious about hardware to me. Not to mention if the report is to be believed Google cancelled/put on hold a bunch of other hardware projects.

    Reply
  • March 17, 2019 at 12:27 pm
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    Thank you Kevin for your balanced reasoning.

    The Pixelbook’s purpose was as a halo device to encourage partners to push the envelope with their Chrome OS hardware by showing them what was possible, much like the original Pixel in 2013 and the follow-up device in 2015.

    Many of us were dismayed when sales of the 2015 Pixel abruptly ended in August of 2016 and we had to wait over a year before the Pixelbook was released.

    While I would love to keep using Google made Chrome OS devices, Pixelbook is my daily driver at the moment, I have used other devices from Samsung, Acer and Asus that were great. And I have repurposed several very old Apple devices to run Chromium as well.

    So the takeaway for me is that even if Google takes a pause on hardware, Chrome OS has never been better than it is right now. But don’t my word for it, just ask Microsoft, who are making their second attenot at chasing after Chrome OS trying to create a simpler, faster and more secure Windows. J

    Reply
  • March 22, 2019 at 7:59 am
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    Wait…if you do actually know some of the Google employees, potentially, affected by this rumour then why don’t you just one of them: “Is the rumour true or is it more BS from Business Insider?”.

    Reply
    • March 22, 2019 at 11:57 am
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      I could do that, but it’s not my way. I don’t want to put them in a bad position, or even worse, have them lose a job due to leaking information. I’m also still under a Google NDA from my time there and I often see/hear rumors where I know they’re true or not. But I gave them my word (and my signature), so I don’t take action on such information.

      Reply

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