Chromebooks find a cozy corner at CES

Chromebooks were the only laptop category that stood out at CES as legitimately new. And Dell, Toshiba, and Lenovo are now serious about the category.

Toshiba was showing off its new 13-inch Chromebook at CES. It's priced at $280.
Toshiba was showing off its new 13-inch Chromebook at CES. It's priced at $280. Brooke Crothers

LAS VEGAS -- The Chromebook has found a niche. CES made this clear.

Toshiba announced its well-designed Chromebook at CES, and Dell unveiled its models a few weeks before the event.

Chromebooks were also front and center at Intel's large CES booth.

And Lenovo told CNET that it plans a big Chromebook push this year. Hewlett-Packard is already a big player.

At a pre-CES event, I chatted with Toshiba representatives, and one explained that many younger consumers spend a lot of their time inside the Chrome browser (hey, I do too) -- whether that's on an Android phone/tablet, an iPad, a MacBook, or a Windows laptop.

For that reason alone, Chromebooks are now a viable option, the person explained. And Toshiba thinks a lot of those potential consumers are students. And they're right. Chromebooks have been gaining ground in education.

Dell -- which also had its new entry on display at CES -- is jumping on the education-market bandwagon too, calling the market the "classroom in the cloud."

This all points to a strong toehold for Chromebooks. If they're widely accepted in education, other markets are within reach too.

Which brings us to the retail market. IDC chimed in this week, recognizing that Chromebooks are making inroads here.

"Asian majors like Lenovo and Samsung achieved strong double-digit growth...partly due to retail acceptance of their emerging product categories, such as Chromebooks," IDC said in its release about holiday PC shipments.

Retail is attractive because consumers who flock to places like Best Buy are typically the most price sensitive. So, a $199 or $249 Chromebook can make sense for them.

Finally, this category is just getting started. Intel expects more powerful Chromebooks to arrive later this year that rival Windows laptops in performance.

If prices are kept low -- less than equivalent Windows 8.1-based rival products -- then Microsoft has something to be worried about -- if it isn't worried already.

Note: Needless to say, the Chromebook isn't right for everyone -- at least in its present form. An account of using one at CES from Ars Technica is instructive.

Dell's Chromebook was on display at the Intel booth.
Dell's Chromebook was on display at the Intel booth. Brooke Crothers
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