Will Internet availability pose a challenge for student-users of Chromebooks?

05th October 2023
Will Internet availability pose a challenge for student-users of Chromebooks?

By Anand Parthasarathy
October 5 ,2023: An early morning  post on X ( formerly Twitter) on Gandhi Jayanthi day by Google’s India-born CEO Sundar Pichai, made it official:
We’re partnering with HP to manufacture Chromebooks in India - These are the first Chromebooks to be made in India and will make it easier for Indian students to have access to affordable and secure computing.”
 Hewlett Packard (HP) has confirmed  that    its Chromebooks would be manufactured at the plant  contract manufacturer Flex, near Chennai 
Chromebooks are affordable alternatives to the traditional laptops, made to a design by Google  that runs  on  ChromeO. This is a Google-developed operating system which  uses the  Cloud as its main storage,  thus allowing the  hardware  -- especially the storage -- to be minimal.
Said Bani Dhawan, Head of Education -- South Asia at Google “The local production of Chromebooks with HP marks an important step in our efforts to continue supporting the digital transformation of education in India. We hope this collaboration will help accelerate the adoption of technology in more schools so that every student and educator have access to the tools and skills to pursue their personal potential.”
Clearly Google and HP have set their sights on an emerging market in India --   ‘connected’ devices for the education sector. And   making these entry-level laptops in India  allows them to  achieve two goals:
One: Keep costs and logistic overheads low by avoiding import duties and   having the supply chain inside the country
Two: Supporting the Make in India thrust of the government, even while  making  HP eligible for  the Product Linked Initiatives (PLI)  on offer.
HP is no stranger to making laptops in India --  since December 2021, it has been making   more advanced   laptops including  EliteBooks, ProBooks and  the G8 series  --  models  whose prices are mostly upward of Rs 40,000.
On the other hand, Chromebooks – especially the  entry level ones aimed at the student market – tend,   to cost between Rs 23,000 and Rs 30,000, though  discounted prices at Amazon or Flipkart today, indicate you can get a 14-inch HP Chromebook  with  4 GB RAM and 64 GB of solid disk storage for around Rs 16,000.
With the  memory and storage offered with these starter Chromebooks,  there is no  scope for loading any useful  tools and applications – or for users to  save their work for long  --on the machine.   This means these devices  require users to  have a stable Internet connection all the time.
Google  offers all its tools including popular ones like  word processing, presentations and calculating, but through the Internet’s online resources – not resident on the machine.  Indeed Chromebooks hold the user in a tight Google embrace of its own apps and solutions.
And therein lies a concern:
Always-on Internet required
How many of the  lakhs of students who are the targeted users in India,  especially those  living in the rural hinterland,  can depend on an always-on Internet connection at home or at school  or college?    Many states  are already  subsidising laptops  for students. And one can  make a reasonable assumption that once the Chromebooks start rolling out of the Flex factory, Google and HP  will hope  to interest more states to select Chromebooks for their  student giveaways.   The  requirement of  Internet connection without which these laptops   will be seriously underutilised  is something  that won’t go away.
study by analysts  Canalys in August 2023 revealed that  the US accounts for 81% of all Chromebook sales worldwide and that HP  is the leading vendor. There is a reason for such large sales in the US: the federal government’s $ 7 billon EmergencyConnectivity Fund (ECF)  started during the Covid emergency, which had a target to  achieve 13 million connected devices  for school children to assist with  remote learning.  The difference is,  schools in the US can also   use the fund to create Internet  infrastructure – like  modems,routers and WiFi hotspotsWho will  provide such  supporting infrastructure in India:  the central government?  The states?  The school and college managements?
Or maybe Google intends to step in at the right time and help, at least the remotely located institutions, with  creating an Internet network  that is essential to fuel their Chromebooks. 
Google has a record of such public interest initiatives  in the past –  like helping  RailTel to provide  WiFi in  Indian railway stations and   by partnering with  the Tata Trust in the Internet Saathi programme for empowering  women. Perhaps  they will do something similar now.

This has appeared in Swarajya