“What’s going on with the Chromebook market? When will I get my devices?!”
This year has been incredibly tough. Not just in ed-tech, but pretty much everywhere. A worldwide Chromebook shortage hasn’t helped, and for many technology educators it’s caused a wide range of emotions including anger, denial, frustration, sadness, resignation, and even “all of the above.”
We hear you, and you have every reason to feel how you do. We feel it too. We never want to see kids starting school without computers, especially when one of our goals at FireFly is to help schools put more devices in the hands of more students. We can’t do much about the current Chromebook market, but what we can do is help keep you informed about our latest predictions and observations of what to expect in the weeks and months ahead.
In April this year we published an article titled “Order Chromebooks Early (If You Can).” Sadly, the shortages we saw coming turned out to be even more severe than we ever imagined. Now, six months later, we’re looking back at some reasons for the lack of devices and looking forward to when we might expect some relief to be in sight.
An “Absolutely Overwhelmed Chromebook Market”
It goes without saying that no one was prepared for 2020. No one could have predicted that the world would go haywire, schools would have to shift to online learning, and Chromebook manufacturing would be pushed to its limits.
The scramble to equip students for distance learning (and to find affordable work laptops for adults shifting to remote workplaces) caused an enormous spike in demand this spring. By the time the typical school buying season had rolled around (June-August), almost all existing stock of Chromebooks was gone. At the same time, new devices coming from Chinese production facilities faced major delays due to health concerns, parts shortages, and even a respectable choice by Lenovo to cut ties with factories suspected of human rights violations.
Instead of being able to ramp up production, manufacturers watched in frustration knowing that a tsunami of demand was building, yet having almost no ability to overcome the shortage of parts and workers.
Even if there hadn’t been manufacturing disruptions and all of the production goals had been met, the demand this year would still have far exceeded the supply. It’s not just schools that are searching for affordable computers this year. Businesses, healthcare, and government have all been scrambling for devices.
In an August 2020 post on Android Central, Ara Wagoner wrote, “In 2020’s absolutely overwhelmed Chromebook market, just finding Chromebooks in stock is essentially a full-time job. Scarcity, demand, and an entire country’s worth of kids (and adults) working from home has turned what would normally be one of the best times of year to buy a Chromebook into the absolute worst time to be buying…”
Supply simply hasn’t had even a moment of time to catch up to demand in the current pandemic, and we’ve now found ourselves in a situation where there aren’t any Chromebooks available anywhere, for anyone.
“When will I get Chromebooks?”
So what are the next few months going to look like when it comes to buying Chromebooks? Manufacturers are trying to get caught up on the backlog, but at this point, it’s a monumental task. HP and Lenovo would each have to ship an average of 250K – 300k devices per week just to get caught up on the current backlog by Christmas.
Still, at least some hope is in sight. Chromebook manufacturers have been able to ramp up production little-by-little, and starting in late October or early November, we believe we’ll be able to start fulfilling the majority of our backlogged orders. Please do not take that as a commitment or a guarantee, it’s just our best guess based on what we’ve been hearing.
How soon your order arrives will depend on what model it is and how early your order was placed. We expect different models to arrive at different times, and FireFly has chosen a strict first-in-first-out policy. Orders will be filled in the order they were received as soon as those devices are available, regardless of district size or past relationship. If your order happens to get pushed back, it’s not because FireFly is placing another customer before you. It’s because the Chromebooks you need have been delayed by the manufacturer.
For more information about which specific models we think will arrive first or to find out where your order stands in line, please contact our FireFly Account Managers. They will be happy to assist you as best they can.
What will next year look like?
It’s hard–if not impossible–to predict when things will return to normal, and in some ways, they probably never will. The demand backlog for low-cost student devices is a moving target that continues to push forward as more needs arise. Even though it’s difficult to think about, it’s likely the Chromebook shortage will continue to persist through the 2021 buying season and possibly beyond.
A likely second round of CARES act funding and an increased community awareness of the need for student devices means many schools could soon have more money than ever available to invest in technology. Manufacturers are trying their best to prepare for a busy 2021, but there are an abundance of factors that could affect how fast devices can be made. Chips, components, workers, factories, and shipping all need to be fully available. A bottleneck in any one one of those things can disrupt the whole market, as we saw in 2020.
So with a limited Chromebook market on the horizon, what should you do? Place your 2021 orders as early as you can, even right now, if possible. For many schools, though, that’s simply not an option. If you can’t place your orders now, then communicate, communicate, COMMUNICATE. Remember that despite the difficulties with supply this year, manufacturers and vendors are on your side.
Even if your plans are uncertain or subject to change, by letting us know about your needs now, we can start working with our manufacturer reps to get a share of the 2021 devices assigned to you. It’s not a guarantee of availability, but it will put you in a much better position than if you waited to plan until next spring. This is especially true for large orders of 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000+ devices.
In the meantime, regarding orders placed in 2020, FireFly is doing everything we can to get your Chromebooks delivered as quickly as possible. This has been–and will continue to be–our #1 priority. Our staff has been holding daily conversations with our high-level manufacturer and distributor contacts, vying for any stock available. We know this has been a hard year. It’s been hard on us too. Thankfully there’s hope in sight that we believe will be here in the next few weeks. Please keep reaching out to us and we’ll do our best to help answer your questions. We’ll get through this together.