The holidays are breathing down our necks like a creepy subway pervert, lumbering by with a yuletide erection. iPads will be massive hits. But for the tech-challenged person in your life? Save some dough and buy a Chromebook.
Google announced a price drop and feature bump on Chromebooks today. They start at $300 now, which is in total Christmas gift territory. If you want to do a beloved computerphobe a solid this holiday season, you'd do well to introduce them to Chrome OS.
Granted, Chromebooks don't have the same cool factor as iPads, Kindle Fires, and even Galaxy Tabs. Those have more wow. But they don't have keyboards. They don't have familiar well-worn interfaces. Document printing is a bitch. So is photo-management. All those old-school, boring things that aren't necessarily glamorous but are often necessary. Despite over the air syncing, iPads still basically demand a computer. And although tablets may be instantly usable to infants and pets, for people who have gotten used to one way of doing things, at great effort, they can be a little scary.
Think about "simplified" computing experiences. Most of them aren't actually any good for anyone who wants a simple computer.
Tablets don't have keyboards. There are very many people out there ready to ditch their fully featured computers, but aren't quite ready to make the leap to iPad or Android only because they want to type on physical buttons. It's what they know, it's what they like. Sure, people can buy a third-party Bluetooth keyboard for their tablets. But those people aren't Google's audience. It should be selling Chromebooks to the people that can't be bothered to ever learn what Bluetooth is.
Meanwhile, netbooks are horrible. Horrible! They are an atrocity. They are like making love to a honey badger (assuming the badger is the top in the relationship). This is especially true for anyone who isn't eager to tuck into some serious driver and device debugging. They are the worst goddamn things computer manufacturers have ever loosed on an unsuspecting public. They are ugly and cramped ultimately useless for anyone who isn't a robot. If you disagree you are deeply wrong and I have lost all respect for your opinion.
Ultrabooks? Sure, if you've got a grand to drop on a stocking stuffer.
The Chromebook, on the other hand, is the ultimate machine for the tech-challenged set that just wants something easy, cheap, and bulletproof that always works. If you have ever used a web browser, there is nothing new to learn. Feeling confident? You can even play games and install some basic apps.
They are ready to go right out of the box, and as familiar as a Caesar salad. Flip it open and it just comes on. You've got email, documents, and social networking right from the get go. There's no setup, no software to update, no drivers to wrangle, no accessories to buy in order to import photos or be able to print. They'll play nice with other gadgets. They're pretty.
So why aren't more people buying them, recommending them, or talking about them as the ultimate democratic computers?
Much of this is on Google (and Samsung and Acer) who are pitching them to the wrong audience. To put this in Conde Nast magazine terms: Chromebooks are being advertised to a WIRED reader, when it's the Lucky crowd that actually needs them. The only place most people have ever seen a Chromebook is on a Virgin America flight—you can check one out for free at one gate and return it at the other. And sure, the disproportionately tech-savvy SFO-JFK Virgin flier might spend a few minutes perusing a Chromebook during a key party breather. They may even love it. But they're not the ones who need—much less want—a dead easy computer.
Google should be checking out free 3G Chromebooks at Greyhound terminals and Cracker Barrels. You should be able to pick one up off of exit 146 in Warner Robbins, Georgia, and drop it off again at exit 274 just outside of Denver. You should be able to try out a Chromebook at the Waffle House. They should sell them at Sears.
The thing is, Google is obviously aware of this. From today's blog post:
We've heard from many of you that one of the things you enjoy most about the Chromebook is its hassle-free simplicity. If you're someone who's often called upon to provide tech support when you're home for the holidays like I am, you'll be happy to know that the Chromebook gets your loved ones up and going on the web quickly, without the usual pains of computing like seemingly endless boot times and setup manuals.
That passage is buried, four paragraphs down. This is not an aside, Google! This is everything. Why isn't Google making more of how easy the Chromebook is? Why aren't Samsung and Acer? The Chromebook has the potential to be a huge hit if shown to the right audience. (Hint: the right audience probably sees its ads on TV and not on YouTube.) And more importantly, it could be a huge hit when your parents unwrap it in a few weeks.
Marketing is the purveyance of bullshit. It is meant to convince you of something that often isn't true. And so here's something from a disinterested third party, that I hope you will take to heart if you are looking to buy an "easy" computer experience for a loved one this holiday. Yeah, the Kindle Fire and the iPad are really cool. But if you want to get something easy, functional, inexpensive, and useful, do yourself a favor and check out a Chromebook. Hopefully, you won't have to fly to San Francisco or New York to do that.
You can keep up with Mat Honan, the author of this post, on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.