New Delhi: Seven years have elapsed since Google (Alphabet Inc.) unveiled the first Chromebook. Yet, India is yet to see widespread adoption of these devices. A Chromebook is an always-connected laptop that runs on Google’s Chrome OS, the company’s second operating system after Android. That is the main problem because unlike in most Western countries, connectivity is poor in emerging markets like India.

“Since data is in the cloud, always-on connectivity is still a challenge here. Hence consumers need to be convinced on the advantages of owning a Chromebook as their main laptop," said Chandrahas Panigrahi, chief marketing officer and consumer business head of Acer India—one of the largest drivers of Chromebooks in the global space. According to Panigrahi, “popular applications are yet to be fully optimized" on Chrome OS, and it’s still at an early stage.

Chromebooks were expected to do well in India because they were positioned as “affordable". In fact, Google had tied up with Xolo, Nexian and other manufacturers, in 2015, to bring low-cost Chromebooks to the country. These moves, though, fizzled out fast. Like Western markets, stakeholders expected them to do well in the education segment. However, according to S.N. Rai, co-founder and director of Lava, an Indian mobile brand, instead of education the laptops were being bought by companies who wanted to give their employees cheap laptops, where the main purpose was browsing, email and enterprise data sharing, etc.

Rai said they expected sales to come from the education sector, where there’s a need for controlling the content, but that didn’t happen. He added that Google itself didn’t really push and Xolo didn’t find scalable demand in the market at the time. Xolo continues to sell these laptops in small quantities but positions them as cheap ultrabooks that run on Windows.

Possible resurgence?

Pointing out that internet penetration has increased since 2015, Rai still believes that Chromebooks may work in India. Acer also agrees that increased connectivity and Chromebooks’ cost advantage could still drive sales in the country. With the growth of smartphone users, companies expect people to be better versed with cloud storage, and more dependent on it. That, they hope, should also open up avenues to sell more Chromebooks in India.

When contacted, a Google spokesperson said the company did not have any new plans to share in this space. It appears, however, to be waiting patiently for the bandwidth tide to turn.

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