Eyeing fat market pie with thin Ultrabooks

Indians generally like a bit more of everything, but when it comes to PCs (personal computers) we seem to have developed a liking for ‘size zero’.

Performers with  Wipro Ultrabooks at the launch event. PTI

The rate at which manufacturers are launching very slim and light-weight PCs, aptly named as ‘Ultrabook’ for its thin form factor, establishes this trend. Starting from the fourth quarter of 2011, till date about six PC companies like Lenovo, Acer, Wipro, Asus, etc, have launched Ultrabooks, the latest craze in the personal computing space.  
 
It is also true that the Indian PC market has recently slowed down and the Ultrabook is expected to fast-boot this market with all its exciting features. The PC market in India is declining and the companies that have faced cut-throat competitions with regard to price points and quality in an almost saturated market, now bring a gadget that, they hope, will give them a much-needed breather.

Worldwide, the Ultrabook revolution is being driven by the world’s largest PC chip maker Intel which powers 80 per cent of the world’s PCs. Currently Ultrabooks use Intel’s second generation Core processors, but the company is all set to bring in two new chips: Ivy Bridge (22-nanometer chip) and Haswell, as a part of its latest innovations. These chips would have very high in-built graphics capability supporting the latest video format Direct X 11. It will also have USB 3.0 built into it.

Further to this and to add some more zing to its Ultrabooks, Intel is also working with operating systems major Microsoft to tweak Windows 7 to optimise Ultrabook performances. Apart from that, the new Microsoft release of Windows 8 operating system will also be used in Ultrabooks to make them even faster. These gadgets will have touch screens which will put it at the same level of computing as tablets.

Meanwhile, the other large chip maker AMD has also recently showcased its upcoming Trinity processor. It is optimistic to bring thin and light machines called “ultrathins”.

Intel also coined the name Ultrabook as these devices are ultra-portable, ultra-fast and ultra-connected. The company defines Ultrabook as a “new class of PC device that combines the processing power and usability of notebooks with the responsiveness, size and weight normally associated with tablets.”

Giving a boost to Intel’s initiative, the TIME Magazine has also said that 2012 will be the year of Ultrabooks. In a nutshell, Ultrabook is nothing but an extremely slim laptop powered by a high-speed and powerful processor and contains a solid state drive for storage, as opposed to hard-disk drives in most PCs.

Though solid state drives make Ultrabooks thinner, lighter and low on power consumption, they lower the maximum storage capacity and increase price. Currently the price range for Ultrabooks in the Indian market varies between Rs 39,000 to Rs 69,000 and they cost about 20 per cent higher than the high end laptops.  
 
Disturbing trend

Coming back to the PC market, Gartner estimated, the combined desk-based and mobile PC market in India was around 2.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, 6.5 per cent lower than the same quarter the previous year. While companies like HP and HCL have lost their PC market share, Dell and Lenovo have done better than their peers.

This gave a clear signal that traditional mode of computing is going through a slimming exercise, if not being outpaced by other modes. Thus, in order to keep pace with the developments in this ecosystem, companies are logging in with their Ultrabooks to regain market share. In India, Acer, Asus, Wipro, Lenovo, Samsung and HP have so far launched Ultrabooks with multiple models.

Describing the Ultrabook as a “form factor that would allow users to both consume and create”, Intel said nearly 100 designs of Ultrabooks from various OEMs would be available in the market from the second quarter of this year. Speaking to Deccan Herald about Intel’s strategy and roadmap on Ultrabook, Intel Marketing Director (South Asia) Sandeep Aurora said the form factor is a result of “the need for a device with sexy design and cool to carry.”

“Every form factor goes through an invention curve,” Aurora said. “We think Ultrabooks are mobile phone re-invented because it fits in between the need to consume and create.”

Admitting that the form factor “may have” come at a time when Apple was introducing its iPad in 2010, Aurora said it had taken time to create the ecosystem for Ultrabooks, adding that Intel had earmarked US$300 million for the Ultrabook project to create and support the ecosystem. He expects many more devices to come out in India with new features, by 2013. Though the initial models are priced at a “slightly premium price”, Aurora said it would take time for the economy of scale to set in.

“Having Ultrabooks alongside desktops and laptops and other form factors allows consumers to see and understand the device, which is what most of the initial models would accomplish. It would be compelling for people to buy, once they understand the advantages the devices can bring,” he said.

Intel is also creating an App Store which the OEMs will be able to ‘tweak’.
Wipro is also very optimistic about its new e.go Aero range of notebooks and Ultrabooks launched very recently. The company claims it to be the thinnest 14-inch Ultrabook with a thickness of 19.3 mm.

It packs in a powerful second generation Intel i5 processor and also comes bundled with Intel Rapid Start technology for which it takes only two seconds to wake up from sleep mode. “Ultrabooks offer a secure, immersive and responsive user experience and deliver no-compromise mobility all in thin, light and elegant form factors,” said Intel South Asia Managing Director (Sales and Marketing Group) Debjani Ghosh.

Wipro Systems & Technology (VP & Business Head) Ashok Tripathy said, “The e.go is a product for the progressive Indian on the move.”

Meanwhile, HP has also launched its Folio 13 Ultrabook which, the company claims, has the best-in-class battery life of 9.5 hours. The device also has a responsive solid state drive and available at a starting price of Rs 69, 990 (plus taxes).

Creating momentum

Aurora added, “Users also wanted them to boot up faster, one second from sleep mode and four seconds from deep sleep mode, with greater security thrown in. We have created the framework and the ecosystem for such devices now and hope it would grow.”

According to Senior Director, Product Category, PSG, HP India, Vinay Awasthi, “Ultrabooks will not be replacing laptops and notebooks, however, they will coexist in the same ecosystem.” The Folio 13 is targeted towards both the consumer and enterprise sector and he believes, “Ultrabooks will be embraced by both professionals working in an enterprise or SMB set up and by all who want the power of mobility.”

Samsung, which released its Series 5 Ultra Notebooks in India, said the thin and more powerful devices are not promoted as a variant of tablet PCs. “We’re not positioning Ultrabooks as an upgrade for tablets,” said Samsung India head for Mobile and IT, Ranjit Yadav.

“Things like portability (thinner than 1.5 kg), storage space of about 500 gb/1 tb, brighter display and extended battery life (6.5 hrs) are contributing strong value proposition for the product,” he said, adding that the current version has hard disk in it and Samsung would introduce the SSD version in the near future.

With Series 5 Ultra Notebook, Samsung expects to grab 12 per cent of the PC and computing device market, which would mostly include first time computer users and those preferring portability for the sedentary PCs.  Apart from them, Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook is a thin lightweight laptop with Intel second generation processor and up to 7 Hours of battery life. In November last year, Lenovo entered the Ultrabook segment with the launch of the U300s and is priced at Rs 67,900 plus taxes. Clearly the ‘thin is in’.

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