As pandemic buying continues, Chromebook shipments soared 275% in Q1, says analyst

Crossing the chasm into mainstream computing

Shipments of Chromebooks reached 12 million globally in the first three months of 2021, according to analyst outfit Canalys, which pegged the year-on-year growth at a stratospheric 275 per cent.

The vendor with the largest total number of sales-in was HP, with 4.36 million units leaving its factories, up 633.7 per cent year-on-year. HP said Chromebook sales had quadrupled in its Q1 ended 31 January to account for $1.69bn or 16 per cent of its PC business revenues.

HP CEO Enrique Lores sounded like the company could have sold more if only those pesky component shortages hadn't been a determining factor, saying on a Q1 conference call it had "increased inventory" and was "changing...the connections that we have with certain component providers."

Shortages of components - specifically ICs, display panels and CPUs - have been a feature of the tech industry since the pandemic forced demand for PCs through the roof. As a relatively low-margin piece of hardware, Chromebooks supply could not match customers' orders.

Vendor Q1 2021 shipments Q1 2021 market share Q1 2020 shipments Q1 2020 market share Annual growth
HP 4.364 million 36.4% 595,000 18.6% 633.7%
Lenovo 3.108 million 25.9% 760,000 23.8% 308.8%
Acer 1.428 million 11.9% 514,000 16.1% 178.1%
Samsung 1.200 million 10.0% 51,000 1.6% 2,233.0%
Dell 1.005 million 8.4% 503,000 15.7% 99.9%
Others 874,000 7.3% 775,000 24.2% 12.8%
Total 11.979 million 100% 3.198 million 100% 274.6%

Source: Canalys PC analysis (sales-in) May 2021

Trailing HP was Lenovo, which grew its shipments to 3.1m from a base of 760,000 a year earlier. Third placed Acer shipped 1.428 million units to distributors and retailers during the quarter, up from 514,000.

The quarter saw the emergence of Samsung as a competitive player in the Chromebook space, growing from 51,000 in Q1 2020 to 1.2 million.

During 2020, Samsung expanded its Chromebook line-up with a bevy of new models, and pushed into new territories. At the tail-end of the year, Samsung launched its basic Chromebook 4 and 4+ machines in the UK, following their 2019 launch in the US and South Korea.

The company also released a flood of more expensive Chromebooks, including the Galaxy model. The successor to this machine, introduced earlier this year, is also the first Chrome OS device to come with a QLED display.

Bryan Lynch, Canalys research analyst, said the results confirm the transformation of Chromebooks into a "mainstream computing product."

"While the education sector still accounts for the majority of shipments, their popularity with consumers and traditional commercial customers has reached new heights over the course of the last year. HP and Lenovo dominate the Chromebook market, but the boom has been a case of a rising tide lifting all boats, allowing vendors such as Acer and Samsung to carve out substantial shares within the PC market by catering specifically to Chromebook demand," he said.

But can that growth be sustained? Lynch said the growth of flexible working, paired with a degree of cost-sensitivity at smaller businesses, will help drive sales in the long term, but said it would require Google to work with OEMS and the channel in a "substantial messaging and evangelisation push."

Of the impact of the semiconductor shortage on shipments, Canalys research director Rishabh Doshi told us: "Most of the Chromebook shipments this quarter are pre-shortage, catering to backlog orders.

"On a wider scale, taking all categories into consideration, supply is definitely not meeting demand, however vendors are prioritizing certain orders, including Chromebooks, where the visibility into short-term demand is better than products in other segments, such as SMB and Enterprise." He added: "The shortage is on a substrate level, affecting material and smaller components, and almost everywhere in the downstream supply there is inventory build-up, so vendors like HP, Dell, Lenovo, etc are buying more parts than they can manufacture from the supply chain.

"Chromebooks rely on lesser components compared to a premium laptop, therefore the impact of the shortage is less severe. If anything, Q1 2021 was very close to Canalys’ forecast as the effect of shortages was expected as the industry ramps up."

On the software side, we've seen Google try to cultivate the ChromeOS as a more meaningful platform for work, introducing native scanning support in one recent update, while also extending the capabilities for IT bods to deploy and manage large fleets of Chromebooks. ®

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