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Could Chromebooks save the PC industry?

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It’s no secret that the PC industry has seen some troubling sales within the past year, but a new report suggests that consumers aren’t even purchasing computers for the new school year. At least not the traditional PCs that most consumers use.

According to NPD, PC sales have slumped by 2.5 percent during this year’s back to school season when compared to the same time period during 2012. While desktop and laptop sales have fallen by 5 percent and 2 percent respectively, MacBook sales decreased by more than 3 percent. However, Chromebooks served as the PC industry’s saving grace by preventing sales from spiraling even further downward. NPD reports that Chromebooks added 175,000 units to the market and were the primary source of growth in the notebook industry.

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“Chromebooks and Windows Touch helped offset what could have been much steeper declines this back-to-school season,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD, said in a statement.  

Chromebooks are a newer type of Google-branded  laptop that rely on the Internet for most of their functionality. They run on the search engine giant’s Chrome OS and can range in price from less than $300 for a simple Samsung notebook  to more than $1,000 for a machine such as the Chromebook Pixel. Chromebooks target the user base seeking a mobile device for light productivity and surfing the Web. Essentially, those who don’t want the full functionality (and price tag) of a laptop but also want a full-sized keyboard may be interested in a Chromebook.

At the same time, Windows touch notebooks have gained more traction in the market according to NPD’s research. These laptops represented a quarter of back-to-school notebook sales, mostly due to significant price drops. More than 33 percent of these touch screen Windows notebooks that were sold cost less than $500.

“The rapid roll-out of under $500 devices put touch much more aggressively in front of the key back-to-school consumer and created incremental demand,” Baker says.

This isn’t the first report to suggest that the PC industry is facing threatening competition from mobile devices, but it is one of the few to emphasize that there’s a silver lining for the notebook market. Earlier this year, the IDC reported that the PC industry had seen the biggest decline in nearly two decades, partially due to the lukewarm reception of Windows 8. Microsoft is prepping its first major operating system update for the software known as Windows 8.1, which is intended to address some of the major concerns and complaints surrounding Windows 8.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are getting more serious about the hardware implemented in their Chromebooks. HP recently announced the first line of Chromebooks to come with Intel’s latest Haswell chip, which hints that more robust functionality and better battery life is in the Chromebook’s future.

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