2012 sales predictions for ultrabooks cut in half
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2012 sales predictions for ultrabooks cut in half

Amid high pricing and a lack of effective marketing to draw consumer’s attention away from other hot-selling mobile gadgets, global ultrabook shipments are falling short of expectations in 2012, prompting IHS (www.isuppli.com) to cut its near-term forecast for the next-generation notebooks.

An estimated 10.3 million ultrabooks will ship worldwide in 2012, according to an "IHS iSuppli Compute Platforms Topical Report" from the information and analytics provider. This is down from the previous forecast issued earlier this year of 22 million units. In the newly adjusted forecast for 2012, more than half of the shipments for the year are expected to come in the fourth quarter.

Along with the revised figures for 2012, shipments have also been modified for the next year, projected to rise to 44 million in 2013, down from the older outlook of 61 million.

"There once was a time when everyone knew the 'Dude you’re getting a Dell' slogan. Nowadays no one can remember a tag line for a new PC product, including for any single ultrabook," says Craig Stice, senior principal analyst for compute platforms at IHS. "So far, the PC industry has failed to create the kind of buzz and excitement among consumers that is required to propel ultrabooks into the mainstream. This is especially a problem amid all the hype surrounding media tablets and smartphones. When combined with other factors, including prohibitively high pricing, this means that ultrabook sales will not meet expectations in 2012."

Even so, challenges stemming from the nebulous marketing and unappealing price surrounding the ultrabook can be overcome, IHS predicts, paving the way for shipments to rise by more than 300% in 2013. Growth is also expected to continue for the foreseeable future, with shipments expanding to 95 million units by 2016. This will drive long-term growth for devices used in ultrabooks, including motion sensors.

Beyond the marketing shortcomings, ultrabooks need to get more systems down to the US$600 price range in order to hit the volume level needed to enter the mainstream, down from prices at the $1,000 level now. If ultrabooks using the new Windows 8operating system come close to the $600-$700 range next year, while adding in an attractive new consumer feature such as touchscreen, a good chance exists for strong sales in 2013. If not -- and ultrabooks stay at the $1,000 level -- their sales will continue to struggle in 2013 as they must compete against lower-priced options, such as tablets and smartphones, according to iHS.

"With the economy languishing, ultrabook sellers may have trouble finding buyers at the current pricing,especially with fierce competition from new mobile computing gadgets such as the iPhone 5, Kindle Fire HD and forthcoming Microsoft Surface," Stice says.

Another factor causing IHS to reduce the forecast is Intel’s increasingly stringent set of definitions for ultrabooks. Based on these designations, many notebooks once called ultrabooks now are being classified as "ultrathins."

While Intel Corp. hasn’t given up on ultrabooks in 2012, the microprocessor giant at its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) this month turned its attention to next year, when it believes that everything will come together with the mid-2013 introduction of the company’s new microprocessor -- dubbed Haswell. Intel described 2013 as a once-in-a-decade opportunity for companies to reinvent the PC, with its new Haswell microprocessor catalyzing the ultrabook revolution.

Beyond the ultrathin and ultralight form factor, Intel at IDF focused on new consumer-friendly features to enhance the attraction of ultrabooks. The focus at several briefings centered on touchscreen technology in ultrabooks, in conjunction with the Windows 8 launch in October. Intel at IDF claimed there are 40 ultrabook designs in progress with touchscreens.

The company also provided a survey showing that when consumers are given a choice, touch was chosen as a desired feature 80% of the time. Intel highlighted convertible form factors for ultrabooks, calling them the "best of both worlds." These notebooks with detachable screens work as a traditional clamshell mobile PCs, but they can also be converted into tablets by pulling the screen off the keyboard.

Other prominent new features being incorporated into the next-generation ultrabooks are voice recognition;security features; multiple sensors including GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes; and hand-gesture recognition.

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