Just when you might have thought that all the downtrodden news for PC sales was the death knoll tolling, get ready for the next wave of ultrabooks (see this excellent discussion by ElectronicsFeed). Next week is the annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) where we expect to see the latest in the ultrabook competition displayed (see this preview from PCWorld).
Tablet PCs have been the main challenger to more traditional PCs, as have smart wireless devices (SWDs) in general. The result of that competition has been a waning in sales and demand for traditional PCs, especially heavy and bulky laptops.
After all, why carry something a good three times bigger and heavier than a tablet if you don't have to? With tablet PCs having undergone competitive pricing, rapidly maturing features, applications (apps), battery power, and port expansions, there's a lot to be said for the switch to tablet PCs from traditional PCs. Enterprises are seeing continued, growing penetration rates and IT adoption (and adaption) of tablet PCs for many employees, particularly those who are the most mobile. However, there continues to be a traditional PC base that has kept the PC sector, and its component value chain, at pace, albeit a slow pace lately. The reason is simple: there are still features and heavy data lifting for which users prefer their traditional PC (whether laptop or desktop); the solution is for many employees to have both devices but switch out traditional PCs at a slower pace than previously.
Welcome to the latest device challenge: ultrabooks (an Intel trademarked laptop category that feature Intel mobile processors). The latest genre of laptops are ultra thin, lightweight, energy efficiency and powerful; they may also just provide the industry with the next device challenge that will propel sales and encourage demand for the remainder of 2011 and beyond. As ultrabooks are revving up, tablets are continuing to see strong growth; with a two-device model for employees, ultrabooks are likely to be the shot in the arm the wider PC sector needs.
Certainly, we can't talk about Intel's ultrabooks without also first mentioning the MacBook Air from Apple. This early device from Apple has (mostly) dominated the field since its introduction in 2008 and continuing through to its latest version released in July 2011. Sales for the ultrabook line have been mostly hampered by price. Because of the high end features and capabilities, these devices have been high(er) priced than other laptops. Now, that competitors to the MacBook Air are coming out with new devices in 4Q11 and Intel's roadmap extending new releases through 2013, minimally, there is a lot of positive anticipation for the success and wider penetration of ultrabooks.
The basic upside: new 4Q11 ultrabook releases are on the way with challenges to Apple from Asus (set to release UX21 and UX31 this September), Toshiba (to release new Portege series (Z830 & Z835) this November), Lenovo, Acer, and likely others who are on Intel's ultrabook gamecard.
The component winners of ultrabook proliferation are a nice, healthy group that could provide a wider semiconductor and electronics value chain boost to volume and revenue (see this article from ElectronicsFeed). According to ElectronicsFeed, among the top three component gains are:
- Hybrid drives are good for HDDs and SSDs (equating to DRAM & NAND upsides)
- DDR3L and later LPDDR3 (according to DRAMeXchange as cited here by ElectronicsFeed)
- LED backlight panels (penetration rates depend on ASP, etc.)
Certainly the need for a demand driver such as the ultrabook line couldn't come at a better time for the industry, and especially for the PC sector (with the exception being the hot tablet PC subsector that has yet to slow). Let's see what next week's IDF brings and hope that it harkens the positive upswing we would like for 4Q11.