The concept of a thinner, lighter and more powerful notebook may seem like a good idea, but reality has a way of changing even the best plans.
Despite being lighter and thinner than prior generations of notebooks while sporting longer battery life, the ultrabook continues to be a blip on the sales charts. Perhaps expectations were set too high, but ultrabooks just have not taken off as initially expected — especially in the business market.
Market researcher IHS iSuppli had originally predicted ultrabook sales of 22 million this year but is cutting that figure down to just 10.3 million, with more than half of the shipments for the year expected to come in the fourth quarter. Company analysts have also pared down sales projections for next year from 61 million to about 44 million.
NPD Group’s DisplaySearch subsidiary has also cut projections for this year, noting that ultrabooks may eventually slip into high gear in the next few years as prices drop and more consumer and business-friendly features are added to the basic spec and design. The research company says sales this year will be about 11.6 million units, down from initial projections of 16.2 million units projected for 2012.
Still, going from 10.3 million to 44 million in one year isn’t anything to complain about. Nothing is holding back ultrabooks, argues NPD Vice President Stephen Baker, it just takes time to build a new platform like ultrabooks.
“What happened was that there were unrealistic and unreasonable expectations set at the beginning of what that platform can do. If you look at it in the right context, ultrabooks are right where they should be and on track to grow next year,” he said.
Baker noted that there are gamer notebooks from high-end boutique shops like Alienware and Falcon Northwest that sell for $1,200 and higher. Much higher, in the case of Falcon, which sells its DRX notebooks for $3,000 or more.
“Should gamer notebooks be 50 percent of the market? No. the problem has always been this idea that [ultrabooks] should be half of the business. They should be 40 to 50 percent of the over $600 products business. No consumer looking for a $399 notebook is suddenly going to spend $1200 on an ultrabook,” said Baker.
Richard Shim, senior analyst with DisplaySearch, who conducted the research, added that part of the problem is that ultrabooks aren’t all that different from regular notebooks, but carry a higher price tag.
“They all use [Intel’s] Ivy Bridge, which are also in notebooks. When Haswell [Intel’s next-generation architecture due next year] comes out, that will be a specialized part for ultrathins and, in that case, there will be a differentiation,” he said.
Plus, it just helps that tablets have the momentum and hype. Even with Intel’s ad blitz to promote ultrabooks, interest in tablets is greater. That, said iSuppli’s Craig Stice, senior principal analyst, is because tablets can do what PCs were needed to do. “It wasn’t that long ago when if you wanted to check your email you had to go to your PC. Now you pick up your phone that’s in your pocket,” he said.
Another minor drag on ultrabooks in 2012 is that consumers and even some businesses have been holding back on buying new systems because of the expected arrival of the new Microsoft Windows 8 operating system. Shim said some purchases have been delayed until after Windows 8 ships on October 26, yet it hasn’t been as pronounced as prior OS launches. Excitement over Windows 7 in 2009, for example, caused PC sales to grind to a halt in the months leading up to its launch.
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