2020 Was the Best Year Ever for Chromebook

Posted on January 30, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Chrome OS, Chromebook with 26 Comments

Researchers from Canalys claim that hardware makers sold 30.7 million Chromebooks in 2020, the platform’s best year ever. So, Google’s productivity platform accounted for over 10 percent of all personal computers sold last year.

“Demand for Chromebooks is through the roof,” Canalys research director Rushabh Doshi said in a prepared statement. “With many countries being forced to accelerate their digital education plans in the wake of additional lockdowns, schools and universities are clamoring for easy to deploy solutions and Google’s digital offerings for education are proving quite popular over rival platforms, especially in the US and Western Europe.”

According to Canalys, hardware makers sold a record 11.2 million Chromebooks in Q4 2020, the best-ever quarter for the platform, and over 4 times the sales recorded in the year-ago quarter. And they sold 30.7 million Chromebooks in all of 2020. Canalys puts the total size of the PC market in 2020 at 297 million units sold, and I arrived at a very similar figure, 288.9 million units, by averaging data from Gartner and IDC. But either way, Chromebooks accounted for over 10 percent of all personal computers sold in 2020.

HP was the top seller of Chromebooks with 3.5 million units sold in the fourth quarter, Canalys says, and sales were up 235 percent year-over-year (YOY). Lenovo was in second place with 2.8 million units sold and 1766 percent (!) growth. Acer and Dell both shipped about 1.5 million units. And Samsung landed in fifth place with just over one million units sold, up 630 percent.

Canalys says that demand for Chromebooks “is expected to remain strong through 2021.” Helping matters, the firm also claims that the platform has seen rising interest from outside of the education market, including consumers and traditional commercial customers that are “seeking out Chromebooks to ensure affordable continuity of business or personal computing.”

Canalys also noted that the tablet market experienced big growth in 2020 as well, with sales hitting an all-time high of 52.8 million units in the fourth quarter and 160.6 million units in all of 2020; that latter figure is 28 percent higher than in 2019. Apple sold almost 20 million of those tablets, the best performance for iPad since 2014. (Interesting that this almost exactly mirrors the PC growth experience in 2020, where sales were higher than any year since 2015.) Samsung (9.9 million units), Amazon (6.5 million), Lenovo (5.6 million), and Huawei (3.5 million) round out the top five.

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “2020 Was the Best Year Ever for Chromebook”

  1. shark47

    Wow! I guess this makes Windows 10X the right move for Microsoft, but Microsoft can't screw it up time. I also agree with Brad that they shouldn't call it "Windows".

  2. CajunMoses

    This is absolutely horrible news if you're someone who makes a living fixing, maintaining, enhancing, or replacing Windows PCs. What little upkeep a Chromebook requires, it does itself, year in and year out. The combination of Web apps and and a few Android apps pretty much makes .exe and .msi apps superfluous, as it should be. It's scary to think that some people are figuring this out.

    • b6gd

      In reply to CajunMoses:

      Lol. ChromeOS is easy to setup, update and reset, because it's a just a browser. The same thing happens with Chrome on Windows and Mac, same for Edge and they even will re-open tabs that you had open after the update.

      Being just a browser comes with many limitations as well. There is plenty of software that I use that just can't run on ChromeOS. In some cases there are web based alternatives but so far they have been inferior.

      Then there is the "scary" factor. Almost everyone I know is running, not walking, away from anything Google if they can. Governments around the world are rightfully concerned about Google, its business practices and its stance on privacy. Apple hammers home the privacy aspect of its products and rightfully so and when iOS starts telling people to their face what Google products are collecting you will see more migration away from Google options.

      Anyone I know that has to use a Chromebook does not like it. The rise of Chromebooks sales was a direct result of the pandemic and people needed anything and Chromebooks were better than nothing.

      I bet all computer sales will go down after the pandemic is over. 2022 probably will not be a banner year for computer sales.

      • Paul Thurrott

        Given that most people spend most of their time in a web browser, Windows and the Mac are "just" browsers too. They're over-priced and very complicated browsers.
        • b6gd

          In reply to paul-thurrott:

          That can run lots of software that Chrome OS can't.

          I use have used Visio on Windows, MS Office, Quicken, Affinity Photo, etc. When I moved to the Mac, most of that was available, and for Visio I use OmniGraffle Pro. There are no web based alternatives for those apps that I like as much as the apps.

          I also can run Chrome (no thanks) or FireFox, or my favorite the new Edge.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to b6gd:

        because it's a just a browser.

        It's a bit more.

        Behind the scenes, Chrome OS is a Linux kernel plus Linux filesystem support, the relatively few additional components needed to launch a GUI, the Chrome browser to be sure, but also a minimalistic window manager needed to support floating/overlapping windows, and finally a framework for supporting specially built Chrome apps which can run offline.

        That said, if one were in, say, 10th grade (spanning older 14-year-olds to younger 16-year-olds, for those outside the US) and taking a basic programming course, who needs locally hosted development environments any more? Several online sites for writing and testing Javascript, Python, etc.

        There is plenty of software that I use that just can't run on ChromeOS.

        Me too, though there's a Citrix Receiver app for Chrome OS, which means I can do 95% of my job using my Chromebook as long as I have a decent wifi connection.

        scary, scary Google

        Fair to an extent. If one uses the Chrome browser in Chrome OS to connect to Bing, OneDrive and uses NO Google web services, does Google have much access to one's personal data and web traffic?

        people needed anything

        People are lazy and ignorant, as a general rule.

        If one is shut in, doing most of one's computing at home, does one need a laptop? There are lots of mini PCs available with no OS for less than US$300. Install Linux on them, attach a monitor, keyboard and mouse, which most people over 35 likely have lying around, and you have a usable system for less outlay than most Chromebooks or Windows PCs.

      • ringofvoid

        In reply to b6gd:

        I used a Chromebook and I liked it.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to CajunMoses:

      Complex software still has its place, but the extremely bad news for MSFT is that fewer than 10% of current Office users need Office. A considerable number of people could get by with Wordpad (some formatting, ability to position tabs in rulers, etc), and the sooner the world accepts that PowerPoint is a mental cancer vector the better. Excel and perhaps Access are somewhat more problematic as there are many business users who use models created by a few others who incorporated advanced features.

      For home, non-work use, Office has been gross overkill for decades. OTOH, 1TB online storage for 5 different accounts makes Office 365 Home a good deal even without Office software.

  3. geoff

    So many Chromebooks are a grudge purchase. People hate them. Really really hate them.

    I had to buy a Chromebook for my daughter, because her school wanted her to have one.

    "It's very cheap" was the reasoning from school.

    Yes, it *appears* to be cheap. Because the hardware is absolute rubbish.

    The truth is that it isn't cheap at all. Because I went out and bought a 'proper' PC for her to use, like most parents did.

    Buying two PCs so that you can use one isn't cheap. It's a waste of my money.

    • Paul Thurrott

      "So many Chromebooks are a grudge purchase. People hate them. Really really hate them." Please, guys. Come on. Let's just move away from this weird mentality. Chromebooks are successful for many reasons, among them their value and that they just work.
  4. melinau

    It's not so much either Chrome or WindowsLinux as "both" for me. The biggest downside of most Chromebooks has traditionally been the poor quality of the hardware. Chromebooks are often cheap, and usually feel it. I find small, low-res displays unpleasant (if serviceable in extremis). This situation has improved significantly with a decent number of good-quality, but inexpensive Chromebooks now available.

    The imaginary heffalump in the metaphorical room will always be Google. It's impossible to separate Google's mainstream Businesses - which depend on collecting, collating & "selling" users' data from sidelines like ChromeOs & Android.

    MS has failed to capitalise on this Privacy problem, but it looks like Apple, especially with Mx-based devices & an emphasis on Privacy might just steal a march on both.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to melinau:

      Gettin' curmudgeonly, it may require having lugged a mid-1980s Compaq or comparable PC at the time to appreciate ALL current laptops. 25 pound to carry around a system with a 8", 640x480 screen has provided LOTS of perspective.

  5. madthinus

    Is this home schooling driving this demand?

    • christophercollins

      In reply to madthinus:

      It's certainly helping it. I got my daughter a Chromebook 4 years ago, a used Toshiba Chromebook 2 so she could learn the mouse/keyboard interface (she was in 4th grade) and had already learned touch. I knew they were working to Chromebooks in our school system.

      That hit full steam in 2020 with the pandemic, but the school system still had no Chromebooks to lend out, so she had her own machine to finish the year, and many families used the 'house' PC for those two months. We already had that one, but they became very hard to get for a while (during the beginning of Fall Back To School), so people were buying cheap PC laptops to run Chrome.

      Far more school systems were ready for Fall, and Chromebooks were stocked again. Many bought them again for school, but had learned that it ran Gooogle Services cheaply from watching their kids and some adults that didn't need the additional PC power or programs gifted them to their parents, etc... Some for themselves.

      That's what happened in my area. All this is based on conversations I had with friends, family, and the people that come to me for tech advice.

      By the way, that Chromebook 2 has been one of the best machines I've had. Got it cheap used, I had to put a new battery in it about 9 months ago and it has a swappable PCMIA module that isn't emmc based. It's fast in Chrome.
      Another sidenote: Our school system just this week got Chromebooks to loan students. They move very slow.

  6. scovious

    If popularity equaled quality, then Android and Chrome would rule the world. People aren't that naïve though.

  7. mikegalos

    And for perspective, the same research firm, Canalys, also says PC shipments were 458 million units last year up 17% over 2019.

    Last quarter 2020 sales were 143 million with a growth of rate of 35% YoY and they're projecting a growth rate of 43% YoY for the first quarter of 2021.

    • rbgaynor

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      Canalys says total pc sales in 2020 were 297 million, up 11% over 2019. Not sure what numbers you are quoting.

      canalys dot com/newsroom/canalys-global-pc-market-Q4-2020

      On the back of this remarkable recovery after a supply-constrained Q1, total PC shipments in 2020 grew 11% to reach 297.0 million units.”

      • mikegalos

        In reply to rbgaynor:

        Analysis from Canalys’ recently published PC market outlook report details key growth trends for the sector in 2021 and beyond. PC shipments (including desktops, notebooks and tablets) are expected to hit 143 million units in the last quarter of 2020, up 35% year on year. This will bring total PC shipments in 2020 to 458 million units, a remarkable annual increase of 17%. The need for personal computing devices for skilled workers and students remains at an unprecedented high despite significant increases in supply. Growth in this sector will spill over into 2021, with shipments in the first quarter expected to be up 43% year on year on a weak Q1 2020. Shipments for full-year 2021 are expected to increase a further 1.4% following an extraordinary year for PCs in 2020.

        www.canalys dot com/newsroom/canalys-global-pc-market-forecasts-2021

    • b6gd

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      If the Pandemic starts to fade with the vaccine distribution and just burning out to an extent, I bet Q2 to some extent and really starting with Q3 we will see a massive drop off in computer sales. Perhaps even lower than in pre-pandemic quarters.

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