If the title of this article made you a bit curious, I’m glad. I’ve been holding this article for some time, mainly because I just couldn’t figure out how to title it. But what I have to say needs to be said, and I wanted to get it published before what I think will happen actually happens.
So, stick with me and read this one through. I hope it incites some thought and conversation. I promise I tried my best to keep it concise!
The 3rd Device Concept
First, I need to make a quick analogy and be clear on what I mean by 3rd Device.
I’m taking this analogy from Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks. While not a fan of their coffee these days, I remember a conversation with a man who was very interested in their business model when they were still up and coming. Part of that model was what they coined The Third Place.
Here’s the gist. In our daily lives, we have two main places we habitate. Work/School and home. Sure, we travel and we eat and we play, but the vast majority of our time is spent getting to and from these two places.
The idea of the 3rd place is that all of us tend to find a third habitat where we spend time on a regular basis. That could be the gym, spa, golf course, community group, bar, etc. There’s no firm definition, here. It’s more about time spent consistently somewhere, and we almost all do it.
So, as a business, if you buy into this concept, you understand that if you make your place hospitable and inviting, perhaps people will make your business their 3rd Place.
As a regular at the coffee shop around the corner from our office, I’d say it is in contention of being many people’s 3rd place. The best quick reference I can conjure up is Central Perk in Friends. Go to work, go home, or go to the coffee shop. That was their 3rd place.
The 3rd Device Concept is Similar
In a similar fashion, in just the past few years, most of us see this trend with devices.
Let’s face it, smartphones have become utilities. We aren’t wooed by the latest crazy innovation any longer. We simply want them to work well, run fast, and do their job consistently.
And, for the most part, they really do. When you stop for a second and consider all your smartphone juggles all day long, the fact that it handles calls and messaging without failing constantly is pretty impressive. Still, we rely on them all hours of the day and failure is unacceptable.
That is utility.
The second device many of us end up using is for work. Granted, just like with the 3rd Place analogy, these devices (like places we go) can vary drastically. Some people’s work machine is a multi-monitor desktop while others are using an antiquated register. The point is, many of us have a second device we use to get our work done and, for better or worse, it is the device we are tasked with using daily.
For the things we do in our down time, however, there is this growing desire for another device. One that is different, singular, and wholly other than the more utilitarian devices we use on a daily basis.
That is the 3rd Device.
A Quick Example
For me, my day consists of working from a standing desk with 2 25-inch QHD monitors attached to an Acer Chromebox CXI2 with 16GB of RAM and 128GB SSD. It is a beast and handles every single thing I throw at it. The screens are fantastic and cover the entire color space, are IPS with perfect viewing angles, and are crazy bright. I’m situated next to a window that overlooks part of downtown.
There’s really nothing to complain about in this setup. I love it.
But at the end of the day, after hours of solving problems or writing code, I simply don’t want to be here any longer. The screens are great for watching content, but that is the last thing I want to do after work on this setup. With Crouton on this Chromebox and Steam installed, gaming is really good.
Don’t care. At the end of the day, I just can’t look at this thing anymore.
Through that same day, my trusty Pixel XL is there, taking calls and messages, alerting me to all the things swirling in the news and social media. I use it to consume some content during a coffee break and lunch or take a phone call here and there, but it mainly is just there. Like the heat or electricity, I’m not terribly excited by its presence. Mainly I just feel the need to have it in order to function as a human.
It is my communication tool. It is a utility.
When I get home, I find myself leaving my phone in the bedroom sometimes for hours, not bothering to check it. I have a wife and kids, so I’d rather be focused on them anyway. When we are all home, my need for that communication utility is not as fierce.
There are times, though, where I’d like to read some articles, look something up, or show the family a video I saw that day. Sure, the phone works for that, but I tend to reach for one of the Chromebooks we have at home, including my own. Fast boot up, larger screen, and full browser support usually make it the ideal device around the home for us.
Equally so, when I’m writing for Chrome Unboxed, I love the ability to escape my day job desk and go somewhere else to work. It makes me feel less shackled, more free.
So, for me, unless I’m reviewing a device, Chromebooks usually slot themselves as my 3rd Device. A thing I get to use because I want to, not because I have to.
Other Devices In This Group
The other clear contenders for this space are tablets. And before the iPad came around, no one was doing tablets well. The 3rd Device concept is shown clearly in the rapid growth of tablets in the post-iPad era.
Apple answered a need people weren’t even quite aware of yet.
The tablet market growth has slowed, sure, but it isn’t dead. It is simply people figuring out that, as their 3rd Device, tablets don’t have to be the latest and greatest item in their device collection. Hell, we have an iPad 2 that shuffles around the house still. It is slow, cracked, and dented, but the kids still mess with it.
Different from our phones and work devices, the 3rd Device doesn’t need to be a product of function and productivity. Browsing, watching content, consuming content: that’s where the 3rd Device finds its place.
And it is this space, precisely, that I see Chromebooks finding their stride and taking hold with consumers.
Marketing and Awareness
For the first time, we are looking at a true marketing push for Chromebooks into the consumer market. Sure, there have been other Google collaborations, but no real marketing. The only other marketing push I can remember was for the Samsung Series 3. The “For Everyone” campaign was decent and it was what made me order one, but the consumer appeal was unclear at the time.
Now, however, with Samsung’s help, there seems to be a focused attention being given to the Chromebook Plus and Pro, positioning them alongside devices like the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface.
The idea being that, with Android Apps on board, this device becomes a true contender in the consumer space. Android Apps get people’s attention. Sub-$500 price tags get people’s attention. Thin, attractive devices get people’s attention.
Take a look again at this video if you haven’t seen it and tell me this isn’t being marketed right along with any other tablet device on the market.
Chromebooks Make Perfect 3rd Devices
The best part of it all is that, for many people, Chromebooks make the best 3rd Devices. Quick, light, simple, and effective: Chromebooks with or without Android are fantastic in this space. Sure, some would prefer a tablet and some apps, but now Chromebooks are gaining an answer to that as well.
Throw in the fact that any Chrome OS device can be used by multiple people with all their apps, settings, and setups right there when they log in. The cloud element at play in the Chrome OS ecosystem is seriously second to none. The fact that I can log in to my wife’s Chromebook and be right at home within seconds is simply astounding. No other 3rd Device can do it. Not even close.
No longer do Chromebooks need to be positioned as competition with gaming laptops, hulking servers, Macbooks or business-specific Windows machines. They can serve in those places from time to time, but they can serve as anyone’s 3rd Device. Grandparents, Parents, adults and children can all find uses for Chromebooks as 3rd Devices.
In this way, we remove the rhetoric around replacing Windows or MacOS. For some, like me, that works. But for many, that isn’t an option. It doesn’t mean a Chromebook can’t still find its way into your device circle.
And as people start to see Chromebooks as that affordable, viable 3rd Device, I believe we are going to see more and more consumer growth as the days, weeks, and months wear on. Saddled on the back of the Samsung Chromebook Plus and Pro (along with many more similar devices coming this year), I think there is a real chance that Chromebooks go from a nascent existence to a mainstream life.
I wanted to say it now, before it is actual reality, to our readers. I’ve talked about it at length with friends and family and, well, anyone who would listen. I deeply hope that this comes to pass.
And when it does, I promise I won’t say I told you so.