Tough Times for Ultrabooks, but Creativity Continues

Carl Weinschenk

Ultrabooks always have had something of an identity crisis. And that uncertainty — abetted by high prices — is making things tough for the devices, which are characterized by their Intel-ness, thin form factor, solid-state storage, fast recovery from non-operational modes and quick retrieval of oft-used data.

AllThingsD reports that two studies point to the problems the subsector is having. First, Barclays said that ultras only accounted for 5 percent of the laptops sold during the second quarter of the year. The second report, from Sterne Agee, suggests a likely reason for what the story suggests are disappointing results:

And that traction isn’t likely to show up until PC manufacturers are able to lower their prices. According to Sterne Agee analyst Vijay Rakesh, 75 percent of the Ultrabooks currently available at Best Buy cost more than $950. Of those, several command prices of more than $1,300.

Those price tags do seem a bit steep in this world in which the cost of electronic gear systematically goes down.

The story said that prices indeed will recede and that the sector may get a restart with the release of Windows 8, though it didn’t say why the new Microsoft operating system will be particularly advantageous to the ultrabook.

The status of ultrabooks also came up in a Barron’s post on the troubled PC industry. For some reason, ultrabooks are considered part of the PC segment while tablets are not. In any case, he agrees that prices are too high:

As for Ultrabooks, we continue to believe that Ultrabooks will be substitutive, rather than incremental to the PC market. In particular, we believe that Ultrabooks will need to reach much lower ASPs to find broad adoption.

A quick scan of recent news suggests that there is plenty going on in the category. For instance, Gizmodo reports on touchscreen ultrabooks — for the record, writer Adrian Covert doesn’t care for them — and links to introductions from Acer, HP and Samsung. Dell and Toshiba also have new ultrabooks. PCWorld has a series of notes on ultrabook introductions.

Ultrabooks, like the tablets, Chromebooks and other mobile devices in the amorphous “not-phones/not-laptops,” have their use case. About a year into their lifespan, however, reports are not encouraging.



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