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Distance studying within the pandemic has made Chromebooks an even bigger power within the laptop market

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Sundar Pichai, Senior Vice President, Chrome at Google Inc., holds up a new Chromebook Pixel as he speaks during a launch event in San Francisco, Calif., On Thursday, February 21, 2013. Google Inc., owner of The World's Most Popular Search Engine, introduced a touchscreen version of the Chromebook laptop, challenging Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. for hardware.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced children across the country to attend school remotely, is helping Chromebooks push their way into the mainstream.

Chromebook laptops run Google's Chrome OS operating system. They can be cheaper than Windows computers and are much cheaper than Apple MacBooks. It's easy on Chromebooks to use Google Classroom, the web-based program teachers and students count on to organize their work while schools are closed.

Technology research firm IDC estimated that device manufacturers shipped around 9 million notebooks with Chrome OS in the third quarter, up 90% year over year compared to the 15% growth rate for all PCs. Chromebooks accounted for 11% of all PC shipments in the quarter.

Microsoft Windows remains the dominant PC operating system. The Chromebook wave could hurt Microsoft's leadership if the pandemic causes users to become even more familiar with Chrome OS and services like Google Docs.

"The typical game plan doesn't really exist, at least for the last few quarters, as there has been this gold rush for Chromebooks so people are taking what they can get," said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager at IDC.

Chromebooks have been available since 2011. Acer, HP, and Lenovo make some of the most popular devices, and Google has been selling Google-branded Chromebooks since 2013.

Some schools bought Chromebooks for students and advertised pickups on social media.

Parents have also bought Chromebooks for their children.

Corey Richardson, head of research and strategy at Fluent360 advertising agency in Chicago, bought a refurbished Lenovo computer from Amazon for about $ 200 for his 8-year-old daughter Portia, a student at the private Daystar Academy. He wanted something practical and simple.

"It was a great investment," he said. "I feel like if we had to replace it after the school year, we would have gotten the benefit we need from it. If it takes another year or two of school, that's great."

Richardson said his daughter had stickers decorated the laptop and used it in addition to schoolwork to chat with friends on Facebook's Messenger Kids app and watch YouTube videos.

Dave Allen Grady, a senior pastor at Christ United Methodist Church outside of Atlanta, said he paid $ 400 or $ 500 for a new HP Chromebook from Best Buy for his 11-year-old daughter, Joy. She got one from her school, Henderson Middle School, but Grady said they returned it so "a child whose parents couldn't afford it could have one".

One way Joy uses the computer is for orchestral lessons – she plays the viola. Students can't all play together in person, so Joy plays while the teacher watches and listens on the other end of a video call.

Chromebooks are also gaining traction in the corporate world, where some large companies have bought them for employees. This week Parallels announced the release of software that will allow Chromebook users to access Windows to give office workers access to custom work applications.

"We have seen a massive increase in demand for Chromebooks," said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, to analysts on the company's earnings call for the first quarter in April.

Consumers pay a little more for Chromebooks as they opt for touchscreen, higher performance models. According to Ubrani, the average sales price of a Chromebook was $ 320 in the second quarter, down from under $ 300 in the second quarter of 2018.

"It's a slow climb," he said. "But it's still a climb when it comes to low price bands."

SEE: Chromebooks for US students involved in the Chinese trade war

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Katherine Clark