Ultrabooks Poised for Growth, but Face Pricing Concerns: Analyst

Ultrabooks will expand in the market over the next five years, according to a new report from Juniper Research. But their price points could leave some customers cold.

Ultrabooks will prove to be more than a passing fad, according to a new report from analyst firm Juniper Research.

Super-thin laptops supplemented with powerful hardware, ultrabooks are chiefly backed by Intel, which wants a more substantial piece of the mobility market. For manufacturers, the form factor represents the chance to capitalize on the same trend that made Apple's MacBook Air a hit among consumers.

Specifically, Juniper believes ultrabooks will ship at three times the rate of tablets over the next five years. "Windows 8 will play a pivotal role in driving ultrabook adoption," read a Jan. 24 note accompanying the report, "with extended battery life, always-on-always-connected and other functionalities coming with Microsoft's next OS."

However, ultrabooks also face one significant issue: Their higher price tag negates any argument that they're a value proposition.

"While Intel's control of the brand ensures that ultrabooks stand out from traditional notebooks, vendors face a balancing act in terms of product strategy," Juniper Research analyst Daniel Ashdown wrote in the report. "Meeting Intel's specification secures brand status and funding, but the step-change from notebooks means many of today's ultrabooks are too expensive for many consumers."

Juniper Research's opinion aligns with that of some other analysts, who feel that ultrabook manufacturers will have a hard battle ahead if they want to seize the imaginations of PC buyers.

"The prices, mostly in the $1,000 price range, are much more reasonable than they used to be for comparable PCs, but they're still not affordable for every PC buyer," Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research, wrote in a Jan. 6 posting on her corporate blog. In a September survey her firm conducted of 5,130 online consumers, around 22 percent signaled interest in ultrabooks at the $1,000 price point.

Moreover, ultrabooks' lightweight bodies alone won't sway consumers, analyst Jack Gold told eWEEK: "If ultrabooks are only thin, light Mac Air knockoffs, they won't be very successful."

But if manufacturers have any doubt about ultrabooks' longer-term market prospects, it certainly wasn't apparent at this January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where a wide variety of different models made an appearance. Perhaps ultrabooks will have more staying power than tablets, which also appeared in large numbers at CES 2011, and most of which crashed and burned soon after.

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