Google’s laptop insurgency6/15/2016
There have been two major camps throughout the history of comic books — D.C. and Marvel. Comic book fans were traditionally in one camp or the other. You were either with Spiderman or Superman (or, I guess, Batman if that’s all you care about). There were major fanboy delineations between the two: D.C. was the original and populated with super powerful beings that seemed unstoppable, and Marvel was the upstart whose heroes had human flaws and were written for a slightly older crowd. Through the years, third-party comic book lines popped up and had their moments in the sun before either fading into obscurity or being acquired by the two on top. But in the ’90s, the darker, more violent Image Comics came out, and thanks to titles “The Maxx” and “Spawn,” nearly found a path to establishing a viable third option for fans industry.
The story of Image Comics — nearly rising to the top but falling just short of glory — is a common refrain in many other industries. Dr. Pepper, Dodge/Chrysler and Reebok are a few brands everyone knows but are not holding the gold or silver medal of their industries. In the world of computer operating systems, Windows is D.C. Comics, Apple OS is Marvel, and Google’s Chromebook line is Image. Sure, there have been other operating systems such as Linux, Ubuntu, beOS and OS Warp, but their window to dominate has passed. For generations, the overwhelming majority of desktop and laptop users have been using Windows, with the trendy and coveted brand being Apple. For much of it’s short life, Chromebook has been a scrappy third place.
The funky thing about a Chromebook is, as a tool, it represents a model of a product that failed (Netbooks) at almost exactly the same time Google launched its variation. In every practical sense, a Chromebook is a Netbook — a type of laptop that is used almost entirely for interacting with the Internet and stores very few files and applications on the device itself. For a brief period in late 2000s, Windows tried Netbooks, but the product failed so miserably they were rarely advertised or mentioned. Traditional desktops and laptops have localized programs and files that allow users to install applications onto sometimes-massive amounts of onboard storage. Netbooks were fast and offered immediate access to the Internet, but that was about it. Chromebook has mostly overcome that issue because Google’s products are virtually all online.
After it’s ’90s surge, Image settled in as a comfortable alternative choice to the two towers of the comic book industry. Chromebook, on the other hand, is starting to cast off its bronze status. Since its market debut in June 2011, Chromebook has steadily climbed the skeptical computing market to become the education tool of choice in school districts across the country. While Apple’s Mac is unquestionably the “cooler” product to have, Chromebook bested the computing giant in quarter one of 2016 with close to 2 million laptops sold.
With online tools such as Google Drive, Apps for Education, YouTube, and the bargain-basement retail price generally below $300, a Chromebook is a nearly perfect student machine. Nearly 25 million k-12 students nationwide are currently part of a Chromebook lending program, and almost all of the top 100 public universities in the nation use Apps for Education to build out their education offerings.
While a Chromebook is a specialized tool, it is not a niche product. The real target of the Chromebook market is the iPad. Google’s netbook is a great education tool, but once the consumers realize it is a much more powerful tool than an iPad — at a reduced price no less — watch out. That’s when OS kings will really start to worry. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.