Chromebooks are sprouting up all over the place these days. We'll apparently be seeing a lot more of them, too. Market research firm Gartner projects that Chromebook sales will increase 79% this year and "nearly triple" by the end of 2017.
That said, Chromebooks appear destined to remain a niche market. Shipments are only expected to reach 5.2 million units this year. For the same period, Gartner says tablet shipments will total over 200 million units, while PC shipments will be just under 300 million units. Even in 2017, when Chromebooks are expected to hit 14.4 million units, they'll still be dwarfed by tablets and PCs.
At the moment, Chromebooks are primarily a North American phenomenon. That region reportedly made up 82% of sales last year. Chromebooks are also mostly selling in the education sector, which accounted for 85% of sales in 2013. According to Gartner, Chromebook makers seeking a wider audience "need to offer better features that address cloud-based usage patterns: faster connectivity, faster memory access, faster and larger solid-state drives, and strong user support in the education, business and consumer segments."
Google could also lend a hand by making Chrome OS more of a full-featured operating system. Right now, the reliance on web-based services makes Chromebooks much more restrictive than comparable tablets and notebooks. More Android apps are being ported to the OS, at least, but we still have a long way to go before Chromebooks deliver the sort of flexibility most folks have come to expect from their mobile devices.