The new Google Dell Chromebook Enterprise devices. (Google photo)
New numbers show that 2020 was the first year Chromebooks outbid Macs and saw impressive market share gains at the expense of Windows. Computers powered by Google’s Chrome OS have already sold Apple’s computers in individual quarters, but 2020 was the first full year in which Chrome OS took second place. Microsoft’s Windows continued to maintain the majority market share, but also saw great success as both Chrome OS and macOS gained market share.
The milestone is based on the numbers provided by IDC, which typically don’t split sales based on the device’s operating system. However, when we looked to see how the pandemic might have affected the PC market, IDC analyst Mike Shirer GeekWire confirmed the results. (We also contacted Gartner, but they don’t include Chromebooks in their traditional PC market results.)
This is a huge win for Google and a warning to Apple and Microsoft. It also signals app and game developers that Chrome OS can no longer be ignored. In all fairness, any company that offers a product or service over the Internet should set resources aside to ensure that the Chrome OS experience is comparable to Windows and macOS.
Break down numbers
In the first quarter of 2020, Apple and Google faced each other: Windows achieved a market share of 87.5%, MacOS 5.8% and Chrome OS 5.3%. In the second quarter of 2020, Windows fell to 81.7%, macOS to 7.6%, and Chrome OS to 10.0%.
Q3 2020 and Q4 2020 confirmed the trend: Windows fell further to 78.9% in the third quarter and to 76.7% in the fourth quarter; macOS grew to 8.4% in the third quarter and fell to 7.7% in the fourth quarter, while Chrome OS was 11.5% in the third quarter and 14.4% in the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter results are particularly noteworthy as the fourth quarter tends to be the biggest for PC shipments. While macOS expanded its lead over Chrome OS in the fourth quarter of 2019, Chrome OS returned in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Here is the breakdown by year (IDC numbers include desktops, laptops, and workstations):
- Windows: Down 4.9 points from 85.4% in 2019 to 80.5% in 2020
- Chrome OS: Up 4.4 points from 6.4% in 2019 to 10.8% in 2020
- macOS: Increase by 0.8 points from 6.7% in 2019 to 7.5% in 2020
Three quarters in a row from Chrome OS to macOS are trending. It’s safe to say that Chromebooks from PC manufacturers such as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo are now outperforming the range of Apple’s desktop Macs and laptop MacBooks. However, 2020 was not a typical year.
The effects of the pandemic
After years of bad news, PC shipments saw growth in 2019 only to end the coronavirus pandemic in Q1 2020. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in China (the world’s largest PC supplier), PC supplies picked up, causing the sharpest decline in years. Supply bottlenecks were then addressed in Q2 of 2020 and the rest of the year, and the rise in home work and distance learning drove PC demand from businesses and consumers alike.
The pandemic is accelerating technology trends. Chrome OS has grown over the past few years, so it’s not shocking to see it grow even faster in 2020. The question is, will this growth continue and will it come at the expense of Windows? While PC shipments have risen across the board, it’s telling that macOS has also surged in share, while Windows fell for the first time in decades (in the past two quarters, though it was still over 80% for the year) has fallen below the 80% threshold. .
Challenging Windows’ dominance in the low-cost laptop market, Chrome OS is part of the stronger rebound in traditional PC sales and part of the reason Microsoft switched Windows 10X to debut on single-screen devices.
Until the pandemic, Chrome OS’s success was largely limited to US schools. Demand in 2020 appears to have grown beyond this small but critical part of the US PC market. In the months ahead, we’ll see if Chrome OS profits are limited to US schools, the US at large, and schools around the world, or whether Google’s low-cost laptops are making headway everywhere. Expect Apple and Microsoft to adjust their respective strategies accordingly.