Much like smartphones, most laptop purchases in India happen in the bottom section of the price spectrum. By that measure, you might expect Chromebooks to be all over the local storefronts, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. India is very much a Windows laptop market, and that patronage has left Chromebooks with practically no room to be relevant. But things started to take a positive turn for these budget Google laptops when the world suddenly came to a halt last year.
It’s not like Chromebooks never got a chance to prove themselves in the region. Until a few years ago, there were a handful of good options available from nearly all big-name laptop makers. But back then, Chrome OS was nothing but a browser and made little sense over a more complete OS like Windows. Moreover, the base prices of Windows laptops and Chromebooks were quite close, putting the Microsoft OS in a much more favorable position, while the latter continued to be a novelty of sorts.
Until last year, the only option you had was to buy a premium Chromebook from HP, which made absolutely no financial sense in a country like India.
These always-connected laptops also posed a big hurdle for most internet-starved Indians. And Google’s marketing, or rather the lack thereof, for Chrome OS didn’t help either. (Google has also consistently failed to direct its efforts beyond the very bottom end of India’s smartphone market, making the burgeoning mid-tier feel abandoned.) The country’s connectivity problems have largely been solved in the post-Jio era, but Google’s approach didn't really catch up. Most buyers still didn’t completely understand what Chrome OS was — or worse, that it even existed and could be a better option for certain use cases.
All this together contributed to a slow but steady decline of Chromebooks from the Indian market, so much so that it was almost impossible to find one. Until last year, the only option you had was to buy a premium Chromebook from HP, which made absolutely no financial sense in a country like India, while importing a unit from the US would add up to an even higher price tag with all the import duties.
Even though India continues to be a smartphone-first market, the demand for laptops skyrocketed, much like everywhere else, when the pandemic hit early last year, pushing offices and classrooms to go online overnight. Still, Chromebooks were never an option for almost everybody, just like my sister, a teacher, who went shopping for a laptop and ended up getting a Windows machine. But I wouldn’t blame buyers like her for the general perception of Chrome OS and the complete lack of options.
Clearly, Chromebooks weren’t going to take the market by storm all of a sudden, but they did register a (very) slight uptick in sales.
But what that staggering increase in laptop sales did was allow the companies to at least test the waters once again, with a handful of Chromebook models popping up here and there over the last year. It was clear that Chromebooks weren’t going to take the market by storm all of a sudden, but they did register a (very) slight uptick in sales compared to the previous year. That was a sign enough for Asus to commit a bigger Chromebook lineup for India very recently, even though it has come more than a year after the pandemic first hit. But that’s nevertheless a welcome move.
The best part about these Chromebooks is that they’re priced far more reasonably and aren’t trying to unnecessarily compete with Windows laptops — something that pushed them out of business in the first place. Take Asus’s lineup, for example; you’re getting a convertible laptop for under ₹24,000 (~$325), which is unheard of on the Windows side, while standard clamshells cost even less. And it isn’t like these devices compromise on the fit and finish to bring down the prices; if anything, they’re more practical for your Zoom calls, online classes, and maybe even as your secondary portable device.
Over all these years, Chrome OS has grown from being just a browser window to being much more capable without further taxing the hardware. It can run Android apps surprisingly well and comes with industry-leading software support. And with just about everything available on the web — even powerful photo editors like Photopea — getting an expensive Windows or Mac notebook over a Chromebook seemed like a bad idea for my own laptop purchase (though I didn’t take long to backtrack on that thought).
Chromebooks still have a long way to go in India, but with fairer pricing, they now at least have a clear shot at it.
Still, the truth is that most people will be more comfortable buying an iPad over a Chromebook if getting a “lite” OS was a priority. With just a 0.14% share, Chrome OS sits at the bottom of the Indian desktop market, which is among the primary reasons why the Google OS isn’t as widely known. It’d take a collective and equal push from both Google and the manufacturers for these notebooks to get out of that cycle and make it into the mainstream. Chromebooks still have a long way to go in India, but with fairer pricing, they now at least have a clear shot at it.