So, here were are heading into the third month of 2021, and Chrome OS has exponentially solidified its place in the world of the “new normal.” Thanks, in part, to the global pandemic that caused a massive explosion of work from home employees and remote-learning students, Chrome OS overtook macOS as the second largest operating system in terms of growth in 2020. That’s a monumental achievement from an OS that, not so long ago, was considered little more than a browser on cheap hardware that was only good for elementary school children.
Obviously, this sort of growth and consumer awareness excites us more than most because we live, eat, and breathe Chrome OS. While we’re extremely proud of how far Chromebooks have come and thankful to have such an amazing audience for our work, the future of Chrome OS has the potential to be either a colossal success or an unforgivable failure. That may sound a tad dramatic but we aren’t blind to Google’s track record with shooting itself in the foot. I’m not hating but lets’ be honest, Google’s dropped the ball on more than one platform that should have easily been a success. *cough, cough. Allo*
Anyway, I won’t beat that dead horse. Instead, I think it’s time we took a look at what Chrome OS needs and where the focus should be if Chromebooks are to continue their climb to the top. There’s room for everyone at this party but Chrome OS is clearly dominating the classroom and Google is taking major steps to accelerate Chromebook adoption in the enterprise sector. Tools such as zero-touch enrollment and an ever-evolving management console have made Chrome OS the king of remote work but consumers are going to need more than that to tip the retail market in favor of Chrome devices.
Google has added a ton of new features to Chrome OS over the past year and more are on the way. This is great for the end-user as more and more users are beginning to see what Chromebooks are capable of and why they don’t have to sacrifice user experience or quality when buying a Chrome OS device. A good majority of consumers could go to Best Buy right, pick up a $500 Chromebook and accomplish everything they need to do on a daily basis and never miss Windows or macOS after learning to navigate the new environment. Google has done an exceptional job at streamlining and simplifying the Chrome OS setup process and the out of box experience is about as clear-cut as it can get. One of the biggest problems we see when it comes to adopting new users to Chrome OS isn’t getting started but what to do once you get there.
Let me explain. When you unboxed a new Chromebook, you walk through the setup process and somewhere along the way, you will likely enable the Google Play Store. Great but guess what? A lot of new Chromebook users have no idea that their shiny new laptop can run the majority of the same applications that they use on their phones. For the tech-savvy, this may sound ludicrous but believe me, the average consumer that doesn’t “live” in tech land as we do is completely unaware that Android apps, let alone Linux packages, can be installed on a Chromebook. Don’t even think about asking a random pedestrian what a PWA is or where you can find one. That’s isn’t their fault. It is simply a lack of information about the platform. The handful of “switch to Chromebook” commercials that Google released tell very little about what Chrome OS can actually do. Users new and old need a place they can go to find everything they need to get the most out of their Chromebooks.
One store to rule them all
Slowly but surely, the Google Play Store is adding progressive web apps and these next-gen, web-based applications are seamlessly replacing their Android APK counterparts and most users are none the wiser. They simply work. Don’t believe me? Open a Chromebook, click on the Play Store and find Twitter. Install that “application” and tell me what you think. Guess what? That’s a progressive web app. Most people don’t realize that and you know what, they wouldn’t care if they did know. It’s all about familiarity, usability, and accessibility. When I want to find an app for my phone, I inherently know to go to the Play Store because that’s where I find apps for my phone.
My suggestion, not that Google asked, is to make a unified app store for Chrome OS. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to reinvent the wheel. The Google Play Store already curates applications specific to Chrome OS. Google just needs to take it a few steps further. Instead of forcing users to enable the Play Store during the out-of-box experience, switch up the flow. When I am on a new device that I’m not familiar with and I need an application, I look for an app store. Now that Chromebook can leverage way more than simply the Chrome browser, Google should present the Play Store as the one-stop-shop for any type of application you need. I’m not saying that Chrome OS should have a desktop widget but seriously, display that “app store” right there on the shelf front and center. When users need a “program” or app to do a particular task, you can bet money that they will click on that icon to go and find it.
If you’re like me and you don’t keep Android applications enabled on your Chromebook, selecting an Android apk from the Play Store could then trigger the setup process for enabling Android apps on the Chromebook. Alternatively, selecting a PWA would just install the PWA as it does now. No-fuss. Let’s not forget that Chromebooks can now install and run a variety of Linux applications. Problem is, most consumers know very little about Linux packages or how to install them. Linux on Chrome OS is a little finicky because of how it runs in a container. This makes some Linux packages perform in a not-so-desirable fashion on a Chromebook. Now would be a great time for Google to curate a collection of Linux applications that run well on Chrome OS and can be used as a stop-gap for users making the transition from Windows or macOS.
I know this may sound like an audacious request but I really feel that Chrome OS has the potential to grow massively in the consumer market over the next few years if Google is attentive to the needs of the buyer. The makers of Chrome OS have done well to add much-needed features that were made apparent by the pandemic but now it is time to make Chrome OS a truly user-friendly experience that can easily adapt to the needs of its user base. This means some degree of parity with other operating systems, a commitment to marketing, and a UI that leaves users feeling accomplished and not frustrated. I really believe that Chrome OS will get there. I just hope that it is sooner than later. Fingers crossed.
After thought: It occurred to me as I was sending out the newsletter, Stadia could be right in the mix of this unified app store. It already comes pre-installed on Chrome OS. Integrating it into a Chromebook app store would be there perfect way to spread the word that you can play your favorite games wherever you go.