Ultrabooks Are Still Thin, But Becoming Huge

By Doug Olenick On Jun 18 2012 - 4:01am




NEW YORK – When it comes to Ultrabooks, thin is still in, but in every other aspect these ultraportable laptops are getting huge.

With the one-year anniversary of the Ultrabook concept announcement by Intel having just passed, vendors are starting to differentiate their models with larger displays, new screen aspect ratios, increased storage capacity and new target customers.

These changes came to light during the spring rollout of all the back-to-school mobile products offered up by Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba and others.

The initial Ultrabook offerings from Acer, Toshiba, Asus and others centered on extremely thin and light models that still delivered high-end desktop performance and were intended to compete directly against Apple’s MacBook Air models. Most importantly, these changes have been made while adhering to Intel’s Ultrabook guidelines of a 7-second resume from hibernation, five hours of battery life, sub-21mm height, a Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge processor (as of June 2012) and USB 3.0 ports.

Karen Regis, Intel’s consumer client marketing director, said the company always understood that the Ultrabook concept would be a journey.

The trip did get off to a fast start.

Regis said the most surprising aspect to the Ultrabook launch was how fast manufacturers adopted the specification.

“Many compared the Ultrabook launch to Centrino, but the OEMs jumped on board even faster with Ultrabook,” Regis said.

Expressing an even greater interest in the format were the component manufacturers, she said. More than 1,100 different companies signed on to the concept from the time it was introduced at the 2011 Computex.

“They all saw the opportunity Ultrabook represented, and that was a very pleasant surprise,” Regis said.

Regis said Intel was even more pleased with Ultrabook adoption by the component manufacturers, with more than 1,100 different companies jumping on board.

While these initial Ultrabook offerings all had a similar familial appearance, manufacturers are now looking to differentiate their products. Regis expressed her admiration for the vendors’ efforts here, saying its impressive they can produce such varying designs while following the Ultrabook specification protocol.

Eric Ackerson, Acer’s senior product marketing and brand manager, said he is not surprised with these new trends.

“We always expected larger screen sizes for the Ultrabook,” he said.

Young Bae, Toshiba’s product marketing manager, digital products division, described Ultrabooks as not being any different from other categories.

“There will never be a one-size-fits-all model for all people,” he said, adding that is why Toshiba produces slim and light (non-Ultrabook) two-spindle models for consumers who still desire an optical drive.

Tailoring Ultrabooks to consumer desires is only part of Intel’s plan to increase their popularity. The company has backed their OEM’s efforts with a $300 million marketing campaign that kicked off this spring. The program’s headliner is musical artist Will.i.am, who is touring the world and using an Ultrabook to create new songs as he travels.

All of this backing has, and will continue to, pay dividends for Intel. According to The NPD Group, Sales of Ultrabooks accounted for 9.8 percent of retail sales of Windows notebooks more than $700 from January through April 2012.

Steve Baker, NPD’s industry analysis VP, said Intel’s efforts will continue to pay dividends going forward in 2012.

“To date in 2012, Ultrabooks have been a very small percentage of Windows notebook, but it is equally clear that with the launch of second-generation products ahead of back-to-school, and the match between Windows 8 and the Ultrabook design ethos, that Ultrabooks will play an important part in the over-$500 Windows notebook market for the rest of the year,” Baker said.

He added that Intel has garnered significant retailer and OEM support to push a product whose average price is likely to be almost 50 percent higher than the overall Windows notebook market.

“Given the typical reluctance of the Windows market to support and [sell] higherpriced solutions such as this we expect to see the entire market continue to rally around the concept in an effort to develop a robust market for products priced over $700. In the initial stages of this effort, despite the rushed nature of the first generation of products, our data indicates this effort is gaining momentum,” Baker said.

Intel is intent on maintaining the higher average selling price points, although several vendors do see prices dropping over time

“We can see Ultrabook technology being pushed down into products lower in the price spectrum,” Ackerson said.

The upcoming release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system is the next item expected to deliver a boost to Ultrabooks. Windows 8 was created with tablet PCs in mind and since the Ultrabook spec had the laptops emulating tablets with their sleek appearance and quick start times, there will be many features of Windows 8 that will benefit Ultrabooks.

Regis expects to see more touchscreen- enabled Ultrabooks to be introduced. Touch was included in the original Ultrabook spec issued by Intel, but it was not implemented on the first wave of Ultrabooks. However, with Windows 8 being develop with touch in mind, the two features should work well together in the Ultrabook format, she said.

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