Chromebook Sales Growth Outpaced Laptops by 3X in U.S.

Posted on August 12, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Chromebook, Mobile with 55 Comments

Citing data from The NPD Group, Google today revealed that sales of Chromebooks in the U.S. grew by 127 percent year-over-year in the second quarter, compared to just 40 percent for Windows and Mac laptops.

“While people are spending more time at home than on the go, they’re relying increasingly on personal desktops and laptops to make everyday life easier,” Google head of Chrome OS developer relations Iein Valdez noted. “Whether they’re video-chatting with friends and family, discovering entertaining apps and games, multitasking at work, or pursuing a passion project, bigger screens and better performance have made all the difference.”

But here’s the interesting bit, at least in the U.S.: While sales of all PCs are up thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of Chromebooks, in particular, are through the roof. The NPD Group says that Chromebook sales surged 127 percent YOY between March and June while laptop sales overall were up just 40 percent.

The revelation was made as part of a developer-related post I’ll be writing about shortly. But those are some interesting numbers regardless.

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Comments (55)

55 responses to “Chromebook Sales Growth Outpaced Laptops by 3X in U.S.”

  1. Saarek

    It's easy to grow fast when you're in the low to no profit section of a market and have relatively low sales figures.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to Saarek:

      It's easier, yes. Not sure about "easy." It's not like it's automatic.

      • Saarek

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        I see where you are coming from, but these machines start at just £149 which includes the UK 20% sales tax.

        These things are, for the most part, cheap and nasty and will likely end up in the bin sooner rather than later. But just like NetBooks before them the price point is going to make them very popular as they offer "just enough" functionality to justify the price to people on a low budget or people who don't know any better.

        • solomonrex

          In reply to Saarek:

          They're fine for children, and will be for years. Even smartphones aren't improving that fast anymore, these will stay relevant for a while. MS and Apple both sell lots of devices with 4gb RAM.

    • Stooks

      In reply to Saarek:

      Rising fast. .042% as of July according to Netmarketshare.

      If Covid/work from home continues for another 6 months maybe they will cross the half of 1% mark.

      • Daishi

        In reply to Stooks:

        The more interesting result from NetMarketShare to me is that Linux usage has more than doubled since the start of the year.

        • Paul Thurrott

          According to Netmarketshare, Linux usage was 1.47 percent in January and is 2.32 percent this month. So it grew 63 percent, not 200 percent. And not that these things are really comparable---they aren't, Netmarketshare measures usage, not unit sales of devices---but that means that Linux's usage gains in this period slightly exceeded the pace at which new laptop sales grew. But it was well under the pace at which new Chromebook sales grew.
          • Daishi

            In reply to paul-thurrott:

            When I look at it it says the month of July was 3.57% up from 1.47% in January.

            I recognise that these aren’t using the same metric and so can’t actually be compared directly, but after Stooks’ comment I had a look at the latest data and the visible spike in the result for Linux in the graph of the past 12 months stood out.

            For the record they also have Chromebooks at just 0.39% in July, down from 0.49% in January. Though that potentially reflects increased traffic overall, rather than an actual decline in usage, and at this scale we aren’t talking about much more than statistical noise anyway.

  2. Sprtfan

    This seems like the type of headline and article that Paul would typically make fun of. We really needed some real numbers or at least a mention about how this could relate to total sales. When I saw the articles title and clicked on it this was not what I was expecting to find. What I like most about the site is that this typically never happens to me when I come here.

    • Paul Thurrott

      This is the data we have, and it was worth reporting: The NPD Group is a trusted source of data. The issue is that the firm supplies this data to hardware makers, and they choose what to communicate. It's still newsworthy.
  3. Stooks

    What do you have left? We only have Chromebooks. Ahhh fuuuuuuudgeee......hmmmmmm.....OK we will take them.........SIGH!

  4. navarac

    Anyone idea what the situation is ex-USA?

  5. Jim Lewis

    Hilarious! Paul is always dissing Microsoft for its quarterly reports giving percentages but never the numbers behind them. Extreme (made-up example): Google Chromebooks increased from 1 per year to 3 per year, a 300% increase! Laptops only increased from 10 million to 14 million per year, only a 40% increase compared to Google's 300% increase year-over-year increase.

    Paul ought to practice what he preaches instead of engaging in "man bites dog" journalism. Nevertheless, one can still suspect that the relative % increase does reflect a scary trend for Wintel with some big numbers behind the Chromebook trend - but real numbers would put the situation beyond just feeding the imagination, as Microsoft likes to do in its quarterly reports.

    There is also the relative profit margin/dollar value to consider, too, in judging the significance of something. Apple doesn't sell all the smartphones in the world but it rakes in most of the profit. So judging success and a sustaining business model also depends on relative profitability. I only bought one very high-end desktop (gaming) PC during the pandemic but for the same cost, I could have bought > 10 Chromebooks, probably. It would be interesting to know where Chromebooks stand in the profitability department for the number sold to judge how big a business it is now and has the potential to become. At one time, a bunch of Android tablets were sold compared to not many Windows tablet devices (the Surface is really a laptop, according to MS!). Now neither of those categories is anywhere much (although I imagine Chromebooks are here to stay in a big way).

    • Paul Thurrott

      You've written more about me here than I wrote about this topic in the post. :) It's just an interesting data point.
  6. StevenLayton

    “The thing I don’t care about is doing better than the thing I do. Let’s shoot the messenger!”

    -Internet forums.

    • wright_is

      In reply to StevenLayton:

      No, the information is meaningless. Unit sales? International sales? The percentages, as given are meaningless.

      If you sell 1 unit in 2019 and 127 in 2020, that is 127% growth. If you sell 50,000,000 in 2019 and "only" have 40% growth, that is a lot more in real terms. The percentage figures don't give any real idea of the market and the relative positions. I'd just like some useful numbers that provide some meaningful information and clarity about their respective situations.

      Also, not living in the USA, I'm much more interested in the International numbers.

      Edit: I am not having a go at Paul here, just the sheer stupidity of the numbers NPD have released, they are less than meaningless.

  7. IanYates82

    This is so similar to Microsoft not giving the base numbers and only giving growth for azure so you are given no ability to make apples to apples comparisons.

    It's indeed important and worthy to point out the difference in growth. However what they started at makes a huge difference to how to interpret the numbers and their significance to warrant the interpretation made by the headline that implies 3x more chromebooks were sold than laptops when it doesn't actually mean that.

    If the base for chromebooks was 100,000 units and they grew 127%, that's now 227,000 units. Great growth no matter what!

    If laptops were selling 500,000 units with a growth of 40% then laptops are up to 700,000 units. An actually bigger quantum in terms of units growth.

    Are you able to find out more info for this Paul? At the chromebook update rate they'll catch up for sure eventually. But just this percentage doesn't indicate they're there yet. I suspect if they were then Google would've explicitly said so.

  8. Chris_Kez

    NPD could clear up all of this drama by simply sharing their actual unit sales estimates, but I guess that would defeat the purpose of selling that information to their clients.

    • MTrimmer

      In reply to Chris_Kez:
      As someone who works in market research (completely different field), I can confirm that data is highly valuable and is not something which any market research firm would give away for free. Their business model is based on selling that information to their clients.

  9. Jorge Garcia

    I still think that a quality Android tablet with a quality keyboard and track-pad attachment would be a far better choice for many, many, many more non-tech-savvy people than any convoluted Chromebook, especially if said tablet could switch to a faux-desktop (DeX) mode for more productive computing sessions, and maybe even keep a copy of full Windows-On-Arm on a secondary partition as an "OS of last resort". Basically, I'm describing the Galaxy Tab S6/S7, but ideally not made by Samsung and priced for regular consumers, not just wealthy tech enthusiasts.

  10. Pierre Masse

    When you are confined at home and have no money, and need to browse because it's suddenly absolutely essential, and your computer is too old and slow and hasn't been used for months, and you struggle with the updates, then it's the perfect choice. Millions of people are in that situation. It helps grow the number. But obviously, the biggest buyers are the schools.

  11. wright_is

    Actual number and international sales?

    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to wright_is:

      It's up to NPD (or their customers that buy this data) to release it. As someone who works in the field it is always frustrating when companies only release cherry-picked stats.

      • wright_is

        In reply to Chris_Kez:

        Yes. And these stats are less than useless, as they stand. They are comparing apples and oranges and the numbers have absolutely no correlation to each other, so are totally meaningless.

        I'm not having a go at Paul, just frustration that NPD released such stupid figures with no information about how those figures have been derived. To be honest, I think it would have been better if everybody had ignored the press release and maybe NPD would then actually release some useful information.

  12. Paul Thurrott


    I'm not sure how a simple news story about Chromebooks turned into a debate about COVID-19 numbers, but we're not having that conversation here. It's wildly off-topic, especially the responses.

    And thank you all for making my morning ritual of moderating comments a living hell.

    • Stooks

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      Well I work in IT Infrastructure (Networking) but one of the sections of the department, is responsible for procuring hardware for users. My office is right next to the manager of this section.

      Because of COVID-19 that job has gone completely crazy. His team is crushed from the workload. Conference rooms have been turned in to laptop imaging rooms. They are buying hardware to accommodate working from home and video conferencing as fast as they can. The only road block to doing so has been hardware availability. As in laptops and web cam's mostly but for a while just about anything as the virus stopped the flow (for a time) of hardware from China.

      The exact same thing is happening for schools. Chromebooks being usually the cheaper alternative, would naturally explode in terms of sales, because of the demand from business and schooling brought on by COVID-19.

  13. ArvindV

    To put this in to context. In usa estimated PC sold are 15.28 million in Q2 2020

    So that's 3.82 million windows and 11.46 million chromebooks sold in USA

  14. wright_is

    In reply to Pungkuss:

    I totally agree with you, which is why the figures are so annoyingly useless. It doesn't say anything about how well Chromebooks are doing in the market.

    If their sales have increased, say, 127% or 2 million units, but laptops in general (Windows, macOS and Linux) are up "only" 40% or 50 million, the percentage sounds great for Chromebooks, whereas in reality, they actually lost significant market share. (Just random figures to show the point, I have no idea what the US sales of either were.)

    Market share or percentage of overall laptop sales is what is needed, not some figure with no base. I hope they have managed to increase market share, I'm not a Chromebook user and it doesn't really interest me, but more competition and good quality competition is always good.

  15. Sprtfan

    I might not be understanding this right, but the only conclusion that we can draw from this is that more Chromebooks and laptops sold YOY. Since we don't know the starting numbers, we can't tell if more chromebooks sold, if chromebooks narrowed the gap between itself and laptops or if the gap actually got bigger? We just know more of everything sold?

    • Paul Thurrott

      We can infer. Chromebooks are a tiny slice of the overall market, so laptops still outsell Chromebooks by a wide margin.
  16. Jorge Garcia

    In reply to pecosbob04:

    Random, unsolicited public service announcement that your question made me think of - this numbers "trick" is exactly what ridesharing company Lyft uses to conceal the congestion mark-up for their fares. They label it "200% Prime Time" to make customers think they're "only" paying double, while in fact they are paying TRIPLE. Conversely, when you're paying triple on Uber, it (should) say 3.0 Surge.

  17. compuser

    I think a good part of those chromebook sales are to high schools, colleges, and universities that aren't opening/having in-house classes, but are instead giving chromebooks to students to use while studying at home. I know they've announced at USSC (just one of the colleges here in Colorado Springs) that they're doing that.

    • compuser

      In reply to CompUser:

      Just read in a local news piece that one K-8 local charter school announced that even though they are meeting in classrooms, they're also issuing chromebooks to every student. If this is a national thing in our schools and universities, that's a lot of Chromebooks. It's several thousand just in Colorado Springs, and the schools would be buying them in the second and third quarters, getting ready for the fall semester. If that's the case, I'd expect a large drop off in the fourth quarter. (By the way, my wife has a Chromebook, and other than poor durability, she loves it.)

  18. bigdcdn

    For the sensational headline the article contains just one data point, percentage of increase sales for the quarter, which is not normal for you. You usually dig deeper into the numbers to provide the full picture of what is happening. While the percentage increase is large and not unexpected given cost and supply chain constraints. What are the total numbers, what sectors did the units ship to, I would assume many went to education as dollars are very tight.

  19. christophercollins

    I'd imagine a big push for this is Google Classroom and parents wanting cheap laptops that work well for that.

    I know in excess of 30 people who have asked me for help buying a cheap computer for Classroom (it's our school systems remote learning).

    In fact, it is becoming hard to find some of the better, cheaper models.

    The one cheap device that can run Chrome properly is a Chromebook.

  20. dftf

    Given wage-cuts and job-losses in the current times, their cheaper-price probably has something to do with that!

    Many Chromebooks in the UK start around £199 (£165 before VAT; approx $215) for a 14" screen, 4GB RAM, 32GB storage and Intel Celeron processor. A brief look on Argos shows the cheapest Windows laptop (that's not on a clearance offer) is £279 (£233 before VAT; approx $305) for an Acer Aspire3 with 15.6" screen, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD and Intel Celeron dual-core CPU.

    • Stooks

      In reply to dftf:

      Supply and price. My company went out and bought 300 laptops in March, Windows laptops. We could not get the same model. I bought 30 from the local Micro center as others went to Bestbuy etc. It was slim pickings and it only got worse. They did have Chromebooks....but we did NOT want anything to do with them.

    • dftf

      In reply to dftf:

      I'm also somewhat surprised dual-core CPUs are still a thing!

      • Saarek

        In reply to dftf:

        For most basic tasks dual core is more than enough. My daughter is happily using my old 2010 MacBook Pro. From browsing the web, streaming films, editing photo's, etc, it's still just fine.

        Most people are not power users, computer performance long eclipsed the basic modern needs of the average user.

  21. scovious

    That's what happens when you completely ignore the educational market and schools start buying Chromebooks and iPads.

  22. mikefarinha

    My guess is that this increase is from school districts racing to purchase Chromebooks for all of their students. This happened in my kids school district, we used the provided Chromebooks for the first two days of virtual school... I'm not a fan.

    I have my kids on PC's today.

  23. hrlngrv

    Remote schooling in most states in the spring. I figure many districts hadn't yet required computers for home use before the stay-at-home orders in March, but they needed to start, and Chromebooks were the cheaper option.

    If one's not using MS Office, Visual Studio, Adobe software or in-house software, one really doesn't need a PC or Mac these days. There are markdown editors which run offline under Chrome OS which provide more than sufficient editing functionality for primary and secondary students, and most primary/secondary computer-based math and science course work is browser-based anyway, and probably the same for foreign language instruction.

  24. EdAM

    These are percentage increases, so not exactly clear on how well they actually did. For example if Chrome had sold 100,000 Chromebooks last year and now sold 200,000 or 100,000 more than normal they would be up 100%. If PC/Mac had sold 100,000,000 last year and this year sold 101,000,000 or 1,000,000 more they would only be up 1% even though they sold 10 times as many as Chrome books. A better indicator of sales would be to show the qty of sales or the percentage of new sales that Chromebooks captured.

    There are liars and then there are statisticians...

  25. lvthunder

    You can't compare percentages. Chromebooks may have 127% increase year over year, but my guess is the 40% increase in laptops is still a bigger number then the 127% increase.

  26. truerock

    I got involved in purchasing $200 Windows 10 notebook PCs a couple of years ago (mostly Dell and HP). I really felt this was a very important product for Microsoft.

    The category fell apart when Windows 10 could not update itself on a 32GB C: drive.

    That issue was eventually fixed by Microsoft - but, the $200 Windows 10 notebook has somewhat disappeared. We now mostly find $300 Windows 10 notebook PCs with 64GB C: drives (and those have become difficult to find).

    I think an important reason Chromebooks are selling well is that it is difficult or impossible to buy a $200 Windows 10 PC.

    • ebraiter

      In reply to truerock:

      Hard disks are quite cheap. I've seen decent sized SSDs for under $50. Personally 120 GB is the bare minimum size for me.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to truerock:

      That issue was eventually fixed by Microsoft

      Not from my perspective. I maintain some VMs with minimal simulated hardware specs. Windows 8.x can work on a 32GB VHD with Office installed, but Windows 10 can't. In my experience, Windows 10 needs at least 40GB.

      FWIW, Chrome works with just a 16GB drive, but don't try to do much with offline software. The beauty of Chrome OS is that it all fits in less than 4GB. No doubt it can be so much smaller than Windows because it doesn't support much peripheral hardware. For example, I have an external DVD drive with usb connectors, but Chrome OS won't play video DVDs using it even though it can read data DVDs.

    • compuser

      In reply to truerock:

      It's also difficult to buy a decent Chromebook for $200.00. Right now at Best Buy, $229.00 gets you a 15.6" Acer equipped with an Atom x5 processor, 4 GB RAM, but only 16 GB storage. Sorted by price, the next one up is $289.00, then $329.00, then $399.00, and rapidly up from there to $776.00. They list five Chromebooks for less than $229.00 (range from $82.00 to $129.00), but they're all pretty much garbage. Every Chromebook they have is marked as sold out. (I bought my wife a new Chromebook for Christmas last year - second Christmas in a row because the first one stopped working - and was trying to spend as little as I could but still get a decent laptop for her. I ended up spending right at $350.00 for a 15.6" Acer Spin that was on sale. The second one also quit working a couple months ago, but luckily it was still under warranty, and Acer replaced both the MB and a separate USB-C card. So even at that price, Chromebooks don't seem to be very durable.)

  27. shmuelie

    When they say "sales" does that include Chromebooks that are free?

  28. winner

    I'm actually considering buying a chromebook to replace my old Toshiba laptop, since I already have a Windows/Linux machine in my office.