What is a Chromebook?
Google's Chromebook is a specially designed internet connected computing device that run the search giant's ChromeOS operating system. Gartner, an industry think tank, believes Chromebook sales will triple to 14.2M units by 2017 (link).
Chromebook were initially seen as the reincarnation of the dreadfully crappy netbooks so sales were slow but today many mainstream consumers see it as a viable alternative to expensive and difficult to maintain traditional desktops and laptops (running Windows or MacOS).
Manufacturers have really jumped on the Chromebook bandwagon by designing and selling well built, thoughtfully designed devices at very reasonable prices (HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, Samsung).
As consumers rely more and more on internet based services (instead of traditional PC installed fat applications) the transition to these types of internet terminal devices becomes a much easier proposition.
Microsoft is now seeing Chromebooks as a real threat to its long term profitability and is trying to fight back by offering $0 Windows licenses on certain lower spec small screen devices. We have seen a handful of OEMs jump on the small free windows license bandwagon but it still hasn't set the world on fire. Microsoft should be worried because not only as consumers starting to move to Chromebooks but many schools are choosing to equip their students with them. They are cheap, low maintenance and kids aren't walking around with $600 highly desirable iPad tablet in their backpacks (making them targets for theft).
What can BestBuy do?
I went to a local BestBuy on Friday to pickup a tablet and while I waited for a rep in blue to serve me, I listened in on an interesting conversation between a BestBuy Canada associate and a customer.
A mid 60's year old man had come into a local BestBuy store to look at the various Chromebooks. He explained to the rep that he had basic needs to browse the web and his son had recommended he get a Chromebook.
The rep started to explain how that was a bad idea. He explained that Chromebooks were underpowered glorified browsers. He then asked the customer if he would ever need to write documents using Microsoft Word and the customer said he does need need to write basic letters a couple of times a year. The rep then asked if the customer wanted to hookup an external display and the customer said yes. The rep then said for these reasons, he doesn't recommend a Chromebook and instead recommends he buy a $1000 Macbook Air.
Now I use a Macbook Pro at home and absolutely love it but man was this rep wrong. At some point the rep went to help a colleague find an item in the back store, at which time I interviewed. I explained how the Chromebook works, the fact that the device requires no maintenance. I explained that ChromeOS is much less susceptible to virus' and that in the event he "breaks" something, he could recover the machine to factory new in under a minute using PowerWash.
I explained that Google offers a free online Word processor and showed it to him on one of the demo machines. I then explained how all of Google's services (including Google Play Music) work perfectly and seamlessly on the Chromebook.
I explained how you could hook up an external screen using the Acer C720P's HDMI port (which was the device he was standing in front of). I the walked him through the process of sending content to his TV using the $30 Chromecast.
Finally I showed him the remaining ports, explained how he could use this device to backup his pictures to the Google Cloud, explained how to hookup a printer using Google Cloud Print and the guy was sold.
A couple of minutes before, the customer was about to walk out of the store empty handed ($1000 was more than he wanted to spend) and now he was asking the associate for 2 Acer C720Ps.
If Google wants the Chromebook to succeed, they need to work with their partner retailers to ensure all of the associates at least have a basic understanding of the technology. They should also offer free only courses on how to use a Chromebook and how to perform common important everyday tasks (setup a printer, connect a screen, stream content to a Chromecast, etc).