IFA 2018 Chromebook announcements give us a big hint about the future of Chrome OS

By | 5th September 2018

Windows on Chromebook - more than a pipedream now

At IFA 2018, several OEMs introduced new premium Chromebooks, including Dell, Acer, and Lenovo. These devices pack beefier Intel-powered specs, metallic designs, and in most cases offer larger display sizes than what we’ve typically seen from Chromebook devices.

Why now, and what does it mean for the future of Chromebooks?

The first hint is in the storage

The days of most Chromebooks packing 32GB or less storage may soon be behind us. Dell’s latest entry packs a sizable 128GB, while Lenovo offers 64GB in their new Yoga Chromebook. Acer is being a bit more coy with its storage specs, though a rep for Acer confirmed there will be a model with “more storage” than the base $349 version.

This is a pretty big hint on why three major Chromebook makers decided to go “premium” at IFA.

The rumored Campfire feature needs at least 40GB of storage

Over the last few months, there have been rumors of a new dual-boot system for Chromebooks, said to be dubbed Campfire (aka Alt OS). As time has progressed, we’ve learned a few more details about the feature.

First, it’s designed with installing Windows 10 in mind, though it’s possible it will also make it easier to install Linux variants. Second, it will take up a good amount of space, with at least 30GB for Windows and 10GB for Chrome OS as a minimum requirement. Third, it will be a seamless process that doesn’t require you to activate dev access on your Chromebook.

Dell Chromebook

Dell’s latest Chromebook packs 128GB of internal storage. For a Chromebook, that’s a lot.

Up until now, few Chromebooks have bothered with more than 32GB of internal storage. After all, Chromebooks are pretty light on storage needs and even Android apps typically don’t need tons of storage. The fact that at least two of these upcoming premium models are confirmed to clock in at more than 40GB of internal storage isn’t lost on us.

Windows 10 is all but confirmed to make its way to Chromebooks in the near future, and OEMs are obviously preparing for this change. Even the various OEM representatives we spoke to at IFA hinted at this inevitability, bringing up the rumored feature on more than one occasion during our pre-briefings.

Windows on Chromebooks is likely just around the corner

The rumor mill makes it obvious that Google’s own Pixelbook will be the first to offer campfire support, similar to how the Pixelbook was the first to get Linux app support. When might that happen? While we can’t say for sure, it’s very likely to happen before the holiday buying season comes to a halt. The biggest hint for this is Lenovo, Dell, and Acer’s timing. These companies probably wouldn’t have announced these presumably Campfire-ready offerings until CES in January if the feature was still a ways off.

I personally wouldn’t be too shocked to see the announcement arrive around the same time as the Pixel 3, though that’s pure speculation on my part. If true, that means we could see Campfire announced as early as October 9, 2018. It’s also possible we could see a Pixelbook refresh right alongside this announcement.

Why do we need Windows 10 on Chromebooks? What does this mean for the future of Chrome OS devices?

Lenovo Yoga Chromebook - could it offer Windows on Chromebook support?

Lenovo’s comparatively massive 15.6-inch Yoga Chromebook would make a great Chrome OS/Windows machine.

Chromebooks are for a new generation, but they need to suck less first

In the 80s and 90s, Apple was the king of the education sector. While it’s still common to find Macs and iPads in today’s school systems, Chromebooks are quickly becoming the de facto choice for the educational market due to how cheap they are, as well as how easy maintenance is on these machines.

Considering the first Chromebooks arrived in 2011, there are at least two “generations” of high school students that have grown up on Chromebooks. While many of these users likely made the move to a Mac, PC, or just stuck with their phones — it makes sense some might want to continue with Chrome OS thanks to its familiarity.

Chrome OS is quickly becoming less of a web-based OS and more of a full desktop experience

That might be at least part of the reason why Google has slowly but surely upgraded what Chromebooks are capable of. Gone are the days that Chromebooks are restricted to just a handful of web apps and are near-useless without an internet connection. Most modern Chromebooks now have access to hundreds of web apps, nearly every Android app (though performance varies significantly from app to app), and a growing number of models even allow traditional desktop apps via Linux app support.

Adding Windows support sweetens the deal even further, giving users the relatively maintenance free and easy-to-use Chrome OS experience when they need it but allowing them to shift to Windows for when Google’s OS doesn’t cut it. I think it’s also possible we might even see Windows programs run directly within Chrome OS via Campfire (likely through some kind of virtualization), though maybe not right out of the gate.

In other words, Chrome OS is quickly becoming less of a web-based OS and more of a full desktop experience. Of course, it’s likely not all Chromebooks will make this transition, as there are still plenty of folks who want a dirt-cheap web machine, similar to how there are Windows S machines that still run Windows but without all the extra fluff and polish. It’s always good to have more options though.

We’ve come a long ways since the Samsung Series 5 of 2012.

Chrome OS has always been about the long game

When Chromebooks were first announced, many people balked at the idea. Even today they have a reputation for being just “web devices” and nothing more. Funny enough, I used to be a Chrome OS hater, until I tried one out and realized just how far they come. Despite Chrome OS’ reputation as a web-first (or only?) platform, Google has done a great job of building up the functionality of the OS. Though I might be crazy for giving Google this much credit, it all seems pretty engineered:

  • Step one: make ’em cheap, win over the education market.
  • Step two: start slowly moving Android and Chrome OS together, allowing Google to have a large stake in both mobile and computers.
  • Step three: fill in all the gaps that hold Chrome OS back from being a true “desktop class” OS. Add Linux support, Windows support, and possibly even shift the code base entirely in the background to allow a full-fledged desktop experience (via Fuchsia perhaps?).
  • Step four: Profit!

Granted, I’m speculating a lot here but I believe that Windows support on Chromebooks is just another step in Google’s plan to make our entire lives centered around Google Search, Google Play, Google Assistant, and… well, you get the idea. Can Chrome OS eventually topple the Windows empire and also beat out the hardcore Mac fanbase? That’s a tall order, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

What do you think of the rumors of Windows 10 and the most recent Chromebook announcements from IFA? Excited to see where this is headed or do you think it’s crazy talk to think Google can ever displace the status quo in the PC market?