Low-priced notebooks running Google's Chrome OS are from today available in Australian retail outlets, but may struggle to find traction in the local market.
The notebook market is "under some stress", according to Foad Fadaghi, research director at analyst firm Telsyte.
IDC reported earlier this year that worldwide PC sales, including notebooks, were down 6.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012, compared to the same period a year earlier. Tablet shipments, by contrast, continue to soar.
Telsyte is predicting that in 2013, more than 7.5 million Australians will own a tablet and that by 2017, iPad-style tablets will have a user base comparable to smartphones.
The first two Chromebooks on the Australian market, models from Acer and Samsung, have recommended retail prices of $299 and $349 — not significantly cheaper than low-end notebooks. One of the local retailers of Chromebooks, JB Hi-Fi, for example, sells an 11-inch Windows 8-based HP notebook for just $348; $2 more than the retailer charges for the 11.6-inch Samsung Chromebook.
In general the pricing of Chromebooks, barring Google's high-end 'Pixel' Chromebook, looks likely to sit above netbooks and just shy of prices for low-end regular notebooks. Although Chromebooks' security, quick boot times and ease-of-use are positives, the new category faces an uphill battle against fully fledged notebook PCs.
"If you do the cost benefit or bang for buck equation for consumers, for maybe a couple of hundred dollars more they could buy a fully fledged pc that runs all PC applications, so it's often difficult for a consumer to envisage what they might use this kind of device for," Fadaghi said.
"I think the challenge is that when consumers think of a notebook they think of being able to install their existing apps and their existing software it's going to be difficult for any product that is a totally new platform, with totally new apps and software... I think it's going to be a difficult sell to Australian consumers."
Fadaghi said, however, that there may be some niche users for Chromebooks, for example in education, which is one of Google's target markets. A Google-sponsored study by analyst firm IDC finding that the notebooks reduced support labour by 92 per cent compared to regular desktop PCs and laptops.