The march of the Chromebook looks to be over for now, at least in the United States, as consumers and students had their fill during the pandemic and are now buying far fewer machines.
Shipment data collated by Gartner shows that in a global PC market which grew 1 per cent year-on-year in Q3 to 84.147 million units, Chromebook models actually declined 17 per cent.
This is the first time since their market debut in 2011 that double-digit declines were recorded for the form factor, the analyst told us.
"Chromebooks will go into a challenging time as the US market, the biggest buyer of Chromebooks, will reach saturation," Gartner research director Mikako Kitagawa told The Register.
She said the device-per-student ratio of the Chromebook and general-purpose notebooks in the US education sector was "beginning to approach 1:1" and this had "slowed down the pace of incremental growth".
Despite Q3 being the back-to-school season, traditionally a busy time for PC makers, Chromebook and notebook shipments declined 10 per cent in the US. The US PC market itself shrank 8.8 per cent year-on-year to 21.548 million units.
HP, the largest seller of Chromebook PCs, saw its total PC unit sales in the land of the free decline 30.4 per cent to 5.28 million. Acer, another big proponent of the form factor, fell 20.8 per cent to 1.32 million.
The "drop off in Chromebook shipments to the US" has played a "major role in the downslide" of HP, agreed channel analyst Canalys.
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Gartner figures for 2020 showed 30.77 million Chromebooks were shipped worldwide, up from 16.5 million in the prior year, as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus forced a change in the way people worked, studied, and entertained themselves. For comparison, Apple sold 22.5 million Macs last year.
Roughly 70 per cent of those Chromebooks were bought by customers stateside in 2020, and while Chromebooks sales expanded in other territories, "its growth and scale are not as big as the US," said Kitagawa.
"One of the challenges for Chromebook adoption in the schools outside of the US is that not all schools are Wi-Fi-ready. Many US schools already had Wi-Fi infrastructure before Chromebook because of the popularity of the mobile computer lab," she told us.
"The other issue for Chromebook's expansion is its slow adoption in the business market beyond [the] US education market," added Kitagawa.
With a scarcity of semiconductors across the industry, PC makers will no doubt be re-evaluating where they decide to use those rare commodities in the quarters to come – and it seems Chromebooks might be a bad bet. ®