Market Watch

Ultrabook and Ultrathin Share of Mobile PC Market to Grow Nearly Threefold This Year


The super-thin mobile PCs will be helped by new functionalities and newly focused strengths

Ultrabooks and other ultrathin PCs will triple their penetration of the notebook market this year as their once-stratospheric pricing comes down to earth and consumers warm to the flashy convertible form factor that allows the systems to transform into tablets, according to an IHS iSuppli PC Dynamics market brief report from information and analytics provider IHS.

Shipments of Ultrabooks and ultrathins in 2013 will climb to a 28 percent share of the total mobile PC space, up from just 9 percent last year. As a result, the non-ultrathin class of mobile PCs will see its portion of the market shrink to 72 percent, down from 91 percent. Total shipments will amount to 241.6 million this year, compared to 213.3 million in 2012.

The continued evolution of ultrathin PCs, a category that includes Ultrabooks, will drive the new computers to higher levels of sales growth and power the expansion of the PC market as a whole, IHS believes. Despite not performing up to expectations last year, ultrathin prospects are generating more optimism this year, thanks to several favorable factors.

For one, the machines last year were universally expensive, usually costing more than $1,000—much higher than the  price of regular notebook PCs. The sticker shock stung consumers, who were already wary because of the weak worldwide economy.

That is quickly changing, however, with pricing now declining to the $600 range for entry-level ultrathin systems.

One factor driving the fall in pricing is that costs are dropping for the NAND flash memory used for storage in most ultrathins. Even in ultrathin models where the storage solution consists of a pure solid state drive (SSD) instead of a combined hard disk drive and so-called cache SSD component, prices have also moderated. This has helped make the price proposition for ultrathins more attractive for consumers.

Another variable that will help make ultrathins more appealing this year is the convertible PC form factor, with the display portion of the computer being either flexible or detachable from the rest of the system. Repositioning the display converts the entire system’s form factor from being a traditional clamshell notebook into a tablet with touch-screen capabilities.

While the convertible PC form factor was already employed in models introduced last year, this feature garnered copious attention at the 2013 CES show in Las Vegas in January. In fact, all major PC vendors showed convertible PCs with tablet-like features at the CES booth of chipmaker Intel—the powerbroker behind the Ultrabook initiative.

For its part, Intel has announced a new ultra-low-power revision of its Ivy Bridge processor used in Ultrabooks that will run as low as 7 watts, a considerable drop from 17 watts before. The new lower wattage is especially important for conserving battery power—a feature that was not expected to be ready until later this year when Intel is to release Haswell, its fourth-generation processor. Intel clearly wanted to let the world know that it could offer low-power mobile products able to compete with ARM-based tablets, such as the Apple iPad.

The third factor in the ultrathin charm offensive this year will come from the glitzy touch-screen panels, which will also become a requirement for Ultrabooks when Haswell is released. The touch-screen feature is appropriately matched to Windows 8, the newly launched operating system from Microsoft that was specifically designed around a touch interface.

Other sensors in the ultrathins also work with the touch feature. These include hand gesture, voice and near-field communication.

A full-powered PC with a longer-lasting battery, a form factor convertible to a tablet and an appealing touch-screen display together represent a system with features never previously available on a traditional notebook computer. Such traits, the PC industry believes, will help elevate Ultrabooks and other ultrathin mobile computers to new sales heights this year.

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