Some trends are like freight trains. If you can't hear them coming your company may be in peril.
Trend Number Two - Ultrabooks / Ultrathins
The onslaught of ultrabooks and ultrathins is trend number two for 2012. Ultrabooks are specified as Intel-branded, while ultrathins are inclusive of all the thin-and-lights, regardless of what is inside.
Designed with Windows 8 in mind, Ultrabook and other ultrathin notebook designs offer performance and always-on connectivity of full-size laptops, fast-boot, instant-on resume from sleep, and security features; with improved CPU and graphics performance, and lower voltage chip-sets that substantially extend battery life. Expect tablet-like touch features, with some including gesture-based inputs, and eventually voice-control.
Observers are quibbling about whether or not low enough price-targets will be hit in 2012 in order to assure Intel's predicted volume. It is probably a simple fact that the ultrathin ultrabook form-factor is what 90 percent of laptops will be by the middle of 2013. Volume production of ultrathins will happen by the end of 2012, or most assuredly by the middle of 2013. The remaining somewhat thicker and heavier models will have requirements driven by specific industries or by gaming, and some will simply need extreme battery life.
Some say ultrathins / ultrabooks will cannibalize traditional laptops.
That seems to miss the point, in much the same way that saying improved automobiles will cannibalize those that remain inferior in function or form.
Whether analysts are right or wrong in predicting the percentage of notebooks that will be ultrathins / ultrabooks, is likewise a moot point. The ultrathins train has left the station with basically all manufacturers aboard,
and will not turn back. The wild-card caveat is clearly the global economy. Pent-up, delayed replacement demand, at both the corporate and individual consumer level, will be satisfied. The only question is how much and how soon?
All ultrathins manufacturers anticipate copying Apple's success with the MacBook Air, and have substantial reasons to believe they can do so, with machines that are equal or superior to Apple products, at lower price-points.
'Turn-about is fair play', and it was Apple that made tablets more like laptops, by accommodating multi-core CPUs, and external physical keyboards, in addition to touch-screen keyboards. The MacBook Air is popular, but even so, accounts for only a few percentage points of laptop sales in the United States. Opportunities for huge sales volume in ultrathins / ultrabooks are real, and will be seized by manufacturers to the benefit of consumers and business, enterprise.
Analysts say commoditization will occur and they are correct. Prices will drop rapidly in tandem with substantial improvements, making it possible for companies' IT departments and individuals to meet their already overdue replacement needs. Manufacturers will be happy to have commodity volume sales. It certainly beats the alternative.
To put this bluntly, the ultrathin and ultrabook tidal-wave is a fully done deal. It is a matter of common-sense evolution; but it would not
have happened if Intel had not 'chipped-in' with real money, and solid organizational plans, in addition to their chip-sets.
The spark-plug is probably Intel's huge $300 Million Ultrabook™ Fund
and their $100 Million Intel Capital AppUpSM,
and that locomotive has serious muscle. Adding even more horsepower, Intel is arranging for Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) to co-design and manufacture ready-to-sell ultrabooks to be branded and badged with names of smaller companies
that lack resources to do so on their own.
Ultrabook prices will be driven down by volume of many vendors and OEMs, and most of all by flexibility provided by Intel, with those two Marketing Development Funds (MDFs). The organizational preparations and execution should not be under-estimated, and have been flawlessly executed. As mentioned in a prior article, ultrabooks
are much more than just a marketing method.
Seventy-five ultrathins and ultrabooks are already in the pipeline for 2012. The first wave with Sandy Bridge processors are an improvement over previous laptops. Ivy Bridge-based models arriving by mid-2012 will be even better, boosting application and graphics performance by 20 to 30 percent over Sandy Bridge CPUs.
Coupled with security features, Windows 8 and touch-screen interfaces, the case to buy ultrathins for business, enterprise is compelling. Corporate IT departments have probably delayed replacements in the current global economy about as long as they can, and may be overdue to meet pent-up demand.
Adding to the momentum, AMD is targeting a $500 US price-point
for some units and can probably deliver high-performance, lower-priced chip-sets to assist laptop makers in making them cheap, and stacking them deep.
Trend Number One - Convergence
Numerous developments give the appearance that ultrathins and new voice-control, touch, and gesture based interfaces are major trends this year. They certainly are major trends, but the fact is those only play supporting roles to the number-one trend of 2012: convergence.
Smartphones are a perfect example of convergence: GPS, multi-media player, camera, mobile-computing, web-browsing, data storage, wireless broadband, tethering other devices, texting, voice-control, touch-based inputs, on-screen and physical keyboards available, unified email inbox, and lest we forget; it still functions as a phone.
Tablets, ultrathins and ultrabooks will continue to converge with more than smartphone capabilities, into yet to be seen devices. If you can't hear those trains yet, surely you can feel the rumble.
|Upcoming & Current Ultrabook & Ultrathin Manufacturers Top-ten List
|Potential Ultrathin Makers List
|ODMs - Current & Potential