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This Was Chrome, Chrome OS and Chromecast in 2014

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2014-in-numbers
Even its most entrenched naysayers have to concede that for Chrome, across all its iterations, 2014 has been a fantastic year.

In twelve months the project, from the browser to the market leading Chromecast, gained momentum like never before. Chrome redefined potential, surpassed expectations and helped foster the next generation of opportunities for developers and users alike.

In this article I’ll recap some of the most memorable achievements, peppered with a healthy dose of stats, figures and numbers.

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Chromebooks

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Almost 17 distinct Chromebooks launched in 2014¹ (give or take), with many being produced in multiple configurations. The year started with the well-received 13.3-inch Toshiba Chromebook and ended with the launch of a new touch-enabled 14-incher from HP.

Intel launched a reference device for smaller OEMs lacking the cash for their own design and engineering to build from, something that small US computer company’s CTL and HEXA computers duly took advantage of.

Towards the end of the year we were able to exclusively share with you an early peek at what 2015 has in store — in all its 15.6-inch glory!

Industry experts say year-end sales of Chromebooks will reach 5.2 milliona 79% increase on 2013. 

Education

chromebooks in education smallBig demand from the education sector, as evidenced by Google’s announcement that it sold more than 1 million Chromebooks to schools and colleges in one 3 month period alone, has helped drive production.

With Microsoft idling away in a recess, and Apple devices too expensive for cash-strapped schools to go all-in on, the low-cost and fuss-free management Chromebooks offer has really resonated with educators across the world, but especially in the United States.

As one US School district deployed 9,000 devices to its students, Edu sales saw Chrome’s US education marketshare rise from 22% in 2013 to almost 50% in 2014, even overtaking iPads.

Chromebase & Chromebox

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ASUS introduced the first new Chromebox since 2012². Their diminutive entrant, measuring a mere 4.8 × 4.8 × 1.6-inches, quickly sold out on Amazon thanks to a combination of great specs and, more importantly, the $179 price tag.

Samsung’s attempts at the Chrome PC had largely failed to catch hold because of price, which it pitched up with a starting price of $329.

The rest of the year saw three more vendors pile in — totalling 4 in all — including  HP, Dell and Acer — the latter being notable as it had canned a planned Chromebox a year earlier (reportedly due to a “lack of consumer interest”).

LG delivered the first all-in-one Chrome PC in the Chromebase. Despite capable performance and a standout screen, its high RRP has seen it struggle to sell. Let’s hope it’s not the last of its kind.

Chrome OS

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Devices are only as good as the software they run, so it’s a good thing that Chrome OS was able to keep pace.

The biggest change was, understandably, the addition of support for running Android apps on Chromebooks. So far 18 Android apps are available in the Chrome Web Store for use exclusively on Chrome OS (and, unofficially, on other platforms).

While the changes are too numerous to list here, some of the most well received (based on page views) were:

  • New multi-tasking “overview” mode
  • App launcher folders
  • Support for proximity-based ‘Easy Unlock’
  • Ability to sync wallpapers between devices
  • Cast support in Chrome OS Video Player app
  • Samsung Chromebooks gain “live support” feature

Check out our Chrome OS archives for more coverage of features as and when they arrived.

Chromecast

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This time last year only one country officially sold the Chromecast, the USA. 365 days later and Chromecast is on sale in more than 30 countries, including the UK, India, Australia and Sweden.

Its signal remained solid throughout the year thanks to this combination of staggered product launches and an ever-growing roster of apps that natively support “casting” — there are more than 400 Cast Ready apps on the Google Play Store! 

New features, like ‘backdrop’ and a handy guest mode that lets visitors cast content to your TV by pairing with ultrasonic frequencies, also helped to keep interest ticking over.

Google Chrome (desktop)

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With a user base in the hundreds of millions every change Chrome makes, however small, leaves an impact on someone. As with Chrome OS, the browser also saw far too many improvements and adjustments to list comprehensively, but among notable changes came:

  • Support for Google Now cards in the Notification Center
  • New Bookmarking experience
  • Support for opening Google Drive documents in local apps (via Chrome)
  • New offline page ‘easter egg’
  • “Audio” indicators to denote tabs playing music/video
  • Support for installing Chrome Apps without being logged in
  • Deceptive software download protection (Windows)
  • Improved font rendering (Windows)
  • “Aura” revamp, including App Launcher, Notifications (Linux)

Native 64-bit builds of Google Chrome were rolled out to Mac OS X users by default (alas, 32-bit Mac support ended).

On Windows, 64-bit builds also went stable, albeit on an opt-in basis. Google cited 25% in graphics and multimedia content handling and hugely improved stability as some of the key benefits to be had from switching.

Google Chrome (mobile)

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Chrome for Android and iOS matured nicely over the course of the year thanks to a combo of incremental updates and a dusting of Material Design. The changes helped Google to increase its mobile footprint to 400 million monthly users.

Android builds introduced numerous UI refinements, enhanced bookmarking and the option to “undo last tab closed”. For smartphones running Android 5.0, the browser even added an entirely new way to manage open tabs.

Among the experimental features we saw trialled (look out for them in 2015!) came a ‘reader mode’, a new “Touch to Search” experience, and “answers” to common questions in the omnibox suggestion field.

Google Chrome for iOS introduced Data Saver, iOS 8 support, and a new first run tour to highlight key features.

Over to you

Naturally there’s only so much room — and so much time! — in which to recap, so plenty of key moments, from trivial to headline, have been left out.

What are your standout memories of Chrome/OS from 2014? Share your take, thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

1. Based on model number, processor and screen size but excluding configuration differences; e.g., Samsung Chromebook 2 11″ and 13″ counted separately due to screen size and marginal differences in processor speed, Toshiba Chromebook 2 in all configs counted as one. 
2. The original Samsung Chromebox received a minor spec bump in early 2013 but no new model per se; Google also launched a “Chromebox for Meetings” bundle, featuring a souped-up Intel Core i-series Chromebox but this was not aimed at consumers.