Chromebooks have surpassed sales of Mac laptops in the United States for the first time ever. And that doesn’t surprise me. Because roughly a year ago I made the same switch. Formerly a lifelong Mac user, I bought my first PC ever in the form of a Chromebook. And I’m never looking back. Image: Shutterstock / Acer / Gizmodo
Driven by the kind of passion that can only be found in the recently converted, I have aided and abetted friends in renouncing the sins of gluttony and pride uniquely found in the House of Apples. I have helped them find salvation with the Book of Chrome. Glory be the Kingdom of Chrome, for your light shines down upon us at a quarter of the price.
Make no mistake, I grew up on Macs. The first computer I remember my Dad bringing home when I was five years old was a Mac. Our family computer throughout the 1990s was a Mac. I used that Mac Performa throughout primary school, and it gave me treasured memories of playing Dark Forces and first discovering the internet. My high school graduation present from my parents in 2002 was my first Mac laptop. And I would continue to buy Mac desktops and laptops for the next decade and a half.
But something happened about a year ago when my Macbook Air was running on fumes. I looked at the Macs and gave my brain a half-second to entertain other options. I owned a functioning Mac desktop, which is my primary machine for heavy lifting. But I started to wonder why I wasn’t entertaining other options for my mobile machine.
The biggest consideration was price. When all was said and done, even the cheapest Mac laptop was going to set me back about $US1300 ($1811) after taxes and AppleCare (in Australia, a basic Macbook Air with Apple Care will run you $1678). And the siren song of a computer under $US200 ($279) was calling my name. I got the Acer Chromebook with 2GB of RAM and a 16GB drive. It cost a shockingly low $US173 ($241). And it was worth every penny. It even came with 100GB of Google Drive storage and twelve GoGo inflight internet passes. If you travel enough, the thing literally pays for itself in airline Wi-Fi access.
I rarely have to edit video and my photo manipulation needs are minimal. So when I walk down to the coffee shop to work, what the hell do I need doing that can’t be done on a Chromebook? Nothing, is the answer. Precisely nothing. And if you’re being totally honest with yourself you should probably ask the same question.
Computers have essentially become disposable, for better and for worse. We’ve seen this trend in electronics over the past decade and it’s a great thing from the perspective of Western consumers. More people can afford e-readers and tablets that now cost just $US50 ($70). The mid-2000s dream of “one laptop per child”, which sought to bring the price of mobile computers down to $100, has become a reality thanks to Chromebooks and tablets made by companies like Acer, HP and Amazon. And with more and more of our computing needs being met by web browsers alone, the average consumer is seeing less incentive to buy a Mac.
This trend should obviously terrify Apple. Computers have become fungible commodities, just like HDTVs before them. Which is to say that the average Westerner doesn’t view a TV as high-tech that requires much homework these days. Any TV will do. Look at the screen and look at the price. Does it look like a TV? Yep. Is it cheap? Double yep. Whip out the credit card.
You can get a perfectly good big-screen HDTV from Target or Big W for $600. And you can get a perfectly functional computer for $300. The second decade of the 21st century has pushed us into this and, long term environmental concerns aside, we’re all a little better off for it.
Sure, a Mac is a superior computer in some ways, especially if you’ve grown up accustomed to them. But the average computer user’s needs have been exceeded in the most basic laptop. Today there are so many Chromebooks at the $300 price point that are heads above the Acer Chromebook that has served me well over the past year. And there will no doubt be even better ones next year.
Of course, there will always be people who want the latest and greatest tech for technology’s sake alone. And if that’s your bag, my colleagues here at Gizmodo will no doubt keep you up to date on the shiniest incremental changes that money can buy. There’s nothing wrong with loving technology and having an obsessive level of appreciation for the nitty gritty. But for those people who can’t see much practical difference between the last three iterations of their iPhone, the idea of a high-end laptop like the MacBook is becoming silly.
Sure, you might get some weird looks at the coffee shop from people who’ve spent the last decade believing that Apple is the only brand of computer worth buying. But go ahead and buy them a latte and tell them the Good News. You can afford it. You saved a thousand bucks on your last computer.