Google Chromebooks(s goog), not Microsoft Windows 8(s msft) computers, are selling well for Acer. In a weekend report, Bloomberg noted that Chromebooks account for between 5 and 10 percent of Acer’s recent shipments to the US; an interesting data point considering the timing. Microsoft’s Windows 8, hoping to re-ignite the PC market, launched in late October, or just about the same time Acer began selling Chromebooks.
Acer’s president, Jim Wong, has been one of the most vocal critics of Microsoft’s partners of late, first announcing disappointment in Microsoft’s decision to launch its own Surface computers and now suggesting that Windows 8 “is still not successful.” For its part, Microsoft has turned the finger-pointing back at PC makers, with The Register reporting last week that Microsoft feels partners didn’t build enough attractive Windows 8 tablets for the 2012 holiday season.
Blame game aside, the numbers are telling. This month, Microsoft announced sales of 60 million Windows 8 license sales, but that figure includes sales to hardware makers for new PCs that may not have been sold yet. And the overall PC market is down in terms of sales. In the final quarter of 2012, the industry experienced a decline of 6.4 percentage points over the year ago quarter.
A few reasons explain the sales decline. For starters, consumers and businesses may be holding on their older computers longer; unless you have a budget PC from a few years ago, you can very likely upgrade to Windows 8 or simply keep using Windows 7 for now.
Cheaper options for PC-like tasks are available as well: Smartphones to some degree and tablets to a much larger extent can handle many activities once reserved for computers. Plus, you can remotely connect to and use a computer from these tablets if needed.
The popularity of Google’s Chromebook is another example of less need for a traditional computer. It’s clearly not a full computer replacement but after using one since June of last year, it fits nearly all of my needs, for example. So much of today’s computing activities take place in a browser that the Chromebook can be a secondary device allowing an old computer to suffice for more resource intensive tasks or apps.
Ironically, Acer’s Chromebook entries are simply low-priced Windows laptops repurposed for Google’s Chrome OS. That cuts out any licensing fees to Microsoft, which if the market for Chromebooks grows, can hurt the company down the line. No Windows also means no Office; essentially a double whammy for Microsoft revenues if Acer’s Chromebooks become a hot seller. Samsung sells both Windows 8 computers as well as Chromebooks and it appears HP (s hpq) is entering this non-Microsoft market too.
Don’t think Acer is divorcing Microsoft, however. The company still builds Windows devices and surely makes the bulk of its PC division revenues from these.
In fact, I just received a Windows 8 tablet review unit from Acer — the Intel Atom-based (s intc) W510 — and my initial impressions are mostly positive. The $599 tablet offers the benefits of touch when desired plus full Windows compatibility and an optional keyboard dock: A handy combination. But if that’s too much money for you, Acer’s Chromebooks start at a low $199; a price that will command more attention than any Windows 8 laptop on the market.