Where’s the Ultrabook Buzz?

Posted on 02 October 2012, Last updated on 02 October 2012 by

iHS, owner of iSuppli seems to find it funny that they’ve had to slash their estimations for Ultrabook sales by 50%. “Dude, You’re Not Getting an Ultrabook” does a great job at getting the media to echo the story but did iHS cock-up or did the market change dramatically in the last few months? We’re a month away from Windows 8, prices have dropped considerably and the Ultrabook looks well-positioned to take a large percentage of the laptop sales market in Q4. Was the back-to-school period disappointing or is the laptop market overall going to suffer in Q4 and take Ultrabooks with it? This is no laughing matter.

iHS have just issued a new report on ultrathins and Ultrabooks and are highlighting lowered predictions for 2012 and beyond. Around 5 million, half of the total 2012 sales, are predicted to start from now. The full report isn’t available for free so we (and others) can only guess the reasons; Many articles this morning point to Apple being the main one. Tablets and MBAs have changed the game and the Ultrabook product, pricing or marketing isn’t making any headway.

Buzz and Excitement

Craig Stice of iHS points to the lack of buzz and excitement around Ultrabooks and he’s right. It may surprise you that we’re not supporting the Ultrabook in this case but for the reason, take a look at the market today.

One one side you have the dynamic, mobile, sensor-packed, always-on, touch-enabled, photo-capable, app-rich point-of-sale converged devices that are smartphones and tablets. This technology is very simply ‘lock-in’ and buying a laptop today is still like a new father having to choose the station-wagon car. It’s the practical, productive choice. In Feb 2010 I wrote about the ‘lock-in’ opportunity for smart books using these features but as-yet, the ARM-based app ecosystems haven’t enriched enough to support that model. Laptops haven’t either. Apart from style, a feature that becomes less important in tough economic times, Ultrabooks are still Windows 7 laptops. Boooooring!

Ultrabooks in Q4

There’s one thing that many agree on – Q4 will be different and in my opinion we’ll effectively see the first true smartbooks hitting the market. Some may be convertible. Some may not run Windows 8 desktop. Some will be netbook-like in their power and price. Some will be Ultrabooks. There are multiple opportunities (for the first time in many years) for a device to finally get buzz. Expectations of quality and design have been set extremely high in the last few years thanks to Apple so the chances of anything getting ‘buzz’ for more than 24 hours these days is minimal but the only possibility for a Windows-based device is to give it what consumers might find exciting. Consumers are starting to lead laptop sales and that’s why touch, sensors, always-on, app stores and media point-of-sale is coming. About time.

Our Q3

Looking back at Q2-Q3 on Ultrabooknews highlights a number of points.

The only devices to get buzz were upcoming  Q4 devices. Asus Tai Chi. Lenovo Yoga. Microsoft Surface. ASUS Transformer Book. The ASUS Zenbook Prime UX32VD had its day too as a gaming-capable ultrabook with an HD screen.  Other Ultrabooks were popular simply because they were cheap.

We’re the biggest Ultrabook website and, according to our ad agency, we have reasonable clout in this segment which means we can look at our affiliate sales numbers and get some idea of the market. June and July were good. August and Sept were disappointing. We didn’t see back to school purchases go through. The next three weeks are going to be tough too.

In a recent survey, the most popular reason for waiting to buy an Ultrabook was price, followed by touch-enabled models. 60% of our readers are in those two categories. Approx 40% are waiting for Haswell or Windows 8. Price is a major issue and will continue to be. Cheaper touch-enabled models could be popular when they start selling later this month.

Negative media hasn’t helped. I’ve been an online reporter since 2006 and have always focused on a more pragmatic side of the market but I know there are products out there that command a lot of readers and a lot of ad dollars. Online journalism is hard and SEO-experts now drive editors in order to keep businesses afloat. There’s very little room for pragmatism and that results in the swarming and polarised effect we see and very little room for new products; even less room for struggling ones.

In summary, we agree that the 2012 market could underperform in line with what iHS says. Eight weeks of 2012 sales won’t be enough in this tough economic climate although there is a chance that a few devices will get buzz. Interestingly, some of the best press for Ultrabooks could come out of the convertible netbook and tablet sector where Windows 8 products will be a little more consumer focused in terms of marketing, style and price and that could help the whole Windows 8 category. Windows 8 confidence will be an important foundation for the success of Ultrabooks so maybe that’s the springboard everyone needs to watch. We’ll see it’s affect during the post CES analysis in Jan 2013

iSuppli report teaser.

24 Comments For This Post

  1. Hamster says:

    In my case, Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks, and everything released passed march this year has been a bitter disappointment. Instead of quality remaining stable, and prices going lower, well, we’ve had a slight price decrease, and a huge plunk in quality.

    In January 2012, the most interesting Ultrabook was, to me, the Folio 13. Guess what? It still is. 2012 has seen a huge number of “Ultrabooks” appear. That is, rather than actual Ultrabooks, I feel the definition has simply loosened to allow either bulky, heavy, and weak batteried laptops in.

    I’ve stated this before, but a 15.6incher is not an ultrabook in my book. Anything above 3 pounds isn’t either. And for the love of god, anything with a battery weaker than 5.5 hours shouldn’t even be allowed out of the factory.

    The first generation of Ultrabooks were pioneers, and stuck to a pretty tight definition. The Zenbooks, Toshiba Z830, HP Folio 13, christ, even the lackluster S3.

    What we’ve had in 2012 is simply appalling. Refreshes to these models are actually more expensive than the first ones. There is no price decrease, only quality decreasing.

    As for touchscreens and Windows 8, I may have a bit of a niche opinion, but I want neither. What I want is a light, 12 to 13 inch, less than 3 pounds, 6hour+ Ultrabook, at a decent price. And so far, while the first generation came close but not quite, the second generation has failed terribly.

    Are Ultrabooks selling badly? I wouldn’t know, I don’t have the figures. But it hardly seems surprising from where I’m standing.

  2. Chippy says:

    You have a very valid point and one that speaks my own desires. The Folio 13 is still a very high quality laptop, not just an Ultrabook.

    I’m looking down into the threads here and seeing other, seriously pragmatic and productive desires.

    As far as prices go though, I think we’re seeing a good shake-up in the market. The Lenovo X1 Carbon is a good offering in the ‘quality’ category that has a price that is amazing compared to just 18 months ago. Yes, there are now lower quality products too but even the price/performance ratio on those has moved in the right direction.



  3. Eloy says:

    Am I the only one waiting for thunderbolt?

    On a quality screen that is, forget the S5 which just seems cheap to me. I think people are still underestimating this technology due to the high-cost peripherals. With a nice screen (1920 x 1080 +), powerful processor and high-speed PCIe transfer through thunderbolt the simple addition of an external GPU would make ultrabooks future-proof.

    The biggest problem with laptops is their limited lifespan. I wouldn’t even consider buying an ultrabook without PCIe-in, and right now it looks like the only option is digging around in the guts to find an mPCIe slot probably already used for networking.

    Vidock has had some real success in this area but for some reason I cant quite comprehend, external GPU’s remain a niche market.

  4. danvet says:

    If I were a serious gamer or run GPU intensive professional software AND want a single system for mobile and desktop use then eGPUs would be a great feature. This does sound like a small group of people though and probably difficult to design a seamless solution.

    The setup should be hot pluggable and run like Nvidia’s Optimus technology where it’s all automatic. The current DIY eGPUs involves too much work for most people.

  5. Eloy says:

    Its really not that difficult there are some fool-proof set-by-steps; but even if the power-hungry aren’t feeling adventurous enough to have a bit of a tinker there are even commercial versions either out now or coming out soon which do support plug ‘n’ play.

  6. Chippy says:

    You’re a pro user Eloy. I know exactly what you are thinking. Thunderbolt could indeed offer an important advantage over basic desktop docking through PCIe bus.

    This is something that businesses and many other pro users will get an advantage from and something i’ll be considering as I write about pro Ultrabooks in the future.


  7. Per Ek says:

    I agree with you Eloy. all the way.
    Following e.g. Computex 2012, I was SO looking forward to the ultrabooks offerings that was supposed to come out this early autumn. So far there has been nothing but disappointments. Even so yesterday when Acer s7 got announced and it seems to lack thunderbolt port !?
    Personally I would never buy a new laptop without a tunderbolt port. And as you say Eloy, people are really underestimating the possibilities with this technology. It’s almost a paradigm shift.

  8. JohnCz says:

    I’m personally going with AIO touchscreen for my desktop and a pen-enabled Windows RT tablet/convertible for my mobile needs. I think the cost of both would be less than getting a powerful enough ultrabook that has proper docking solutions.

    Syncing and online storage become the sticking point with such a configuration. I’ve been very happy with SkyDrive and they are upgrading it all the time, so I think its going to be nearly perfect for my needs.

  9. JohnCz says:

    I’m going to have to rethink this. I thought there were Windows RT devices that had a active digitzer but unfortunately I’m mistaken. If I can find a Atom tablet with stylus in the $500-600 range, then I’ll still go with the AIO + Tablet approach.

  10. danvet says:

    I wanted to buy an ultrabook this Summer but none were worth it. I ended up getting a ThinkPad X230 instead. Fairly small, a fast standard voltage CPU, WWAN, GPS, varying battery configurations from 29 Wh to 151 Wh (I went with the 94 Wh + 57 Wh), boots in 20 seconds and resumes instantly.

    I guess I don’t have the thin look but that’s a very small price to pay for what you get. Super thin == not that useful.

  11. Chippy says:

    Battery options are hugely important danvet, I understand. I believe that 100Wh+ packages won’t be needed by the end of 2013 though for all-day use.

    How much does your set-up weigh BTW? I’m guessing 2.5KG?


  12. Tsuki says:

    X230 w/9cell+slice should be about 2.5kg. Personally, I just use the 9cell only, which is a much more reasonable 1.6kg. The X230 slice is heavy for the battery capacity it provides (about .9kg for 60whr), carrying a second 9cell, while not as elegant gives you a lot more battery for your weight (about .5kg for 95whr).

    Anyways, we won’t need as large of batteries by the end of 2013, but I still think that the 40whr units that are common on ultrabooks still won’t be enough for full day battery life.

  13. guy says:

    The X230 with a 94 Wh 9 cell battery weighs ~1.7 kg. Adding the 57 Wh slice battery for a total of 151 Wh weighs ~2.4 kg.

    I’m looking forward to Haswell and beyond where I can get even more battery life with the same battery capacity or go for a lighter and smaller package (4 or 6 cell) but still get the same battery life as I do now without sacrificing performance. I’m idling around 5.5 W. I wonder what the power consumption of next year’s batch of devices are.

    When ultrabooks get better so do regular notebooks. Most features aren’t really exclusive to ultrabooks. So I’ll probably be upgrading to another notebook instead of an ultrabook when upgrade time comes along.

  14. learis says:

    I’ve seen more downgrades to ultrabooks this year than upgrades (crappier resolutions, loss of pure SSD). There’s a few nice ones out there, but I think next year there will be a much better selection at more competitive prices.

  15. DavidC1 says:


    “June and July were good. August and Sept were disappointing.”

    I looked on Amazon top sellers list for Notebooks for few months now. At least for Amazon I can verify your claim. What I also read in addition to the list is reviews. It seems early on the Sony Vaio T13 sold nicely, but it quickly fell off the list. I have to assume that on two things:

    -Few bad initial user reviews are discouraging potential buyers
    -People who needed one right away got one, the rest are waiting for what’s going to happen later this year.

    The T13 used to be in the top 10 for quite a long time. Now its not even on top 50. Zenbook Prime fell off the list after numerous 1-2 star reviews.

    The biggest surprise is the $1500+ Samsung Series 9. It’s on top 20 list for few weeks now. It looks like people value uality and good support very much, not a surprise there.

    Asus makes good products but don’t have good support. Acer has a bad rep in general and Sony has gone down recently. The manufacturers need to fix this. If not, Intel needs to aid them to fix such issues.

  16. Aron Griffis says:

    I bought an ASUS UL30Vt in March 2011 for $549. It’s thin (less than an inch), light (3.3 lbs), and runs for 6 hours on battery. The CPU is an SU7300 (ULV variety of Core 2 Duo) with 10W TDP, so it’s not a rocket but it does fine, and the fan turns on. It has 4G of RAM and I upgraded to an SSD in the same month I bought it. For gamers, this laptop has switchable Nvidia discrete graphics, but I keep that powered off in favor of battery life. The screen is a TN-type 1366×768 — poor resolution and viewing angles, but it seems like the current crop of ultrabooks has either the same anemic resolution or chronic backlight bleed issues.

    That’s the core issue for me… most of the ultrabooks aren’t sufficiently compelling for me to upgrade from what I bought 1.5 years ago. My next laptop should have an IPS screen with better-than-1366, 8G RAM or more, and DisplayPort (which drastically limits the options). My desktop is a fanless i7 (CompuLab IntensePC) so the laptop needs to be near-silent. Six hours of battery at least. I have my eye on the Thinkpad X1 Carbon; it’s just really expensive for what amounts to an incremental upgrade from this 1.5-year-old ASUS.

  17. Aron Griffis says:

    I meant “the fan almost never turns on.”

  18. adamaindublin says:

    Where’s the ultrabook buzz?

    Simple: people don’t buy device categories; they buy DEVICES. You can’t make people obsess and get all emotional over a device category, especially one with an incredibly washed out and confusing brand like Ultrabooks; that’s a complete waste of your marketing dollars.
    People get emotional about well designed, well made and well-integrated DEVICES.

    Intel should’ve spent their $$$ to pick 1 or 2 “Flagship” devices in each category and price-point and then help them ensure that they have fully utilized the full Intel featureset; WIDI, assistance on thermal design and power efficiency, and beyond that help them market the DEVICE itself. “Crown” each of these premium, “flagship” devices as the premium Intel experience for its class and form factor.

    An Intel premium Core-based 11″ tablet device
    An Intel premium Core-based 13″ convertible tablet
    An Intel premium touch screen ultrathin, ultra light
    An Intel premium powerhouse laptop
    An Intel Premium Arm-based convertible tablet
    An Intel Premium Smart Phone etc..

    Also spread the love, make one premium device a Samsung device, one an Asus device, etc.. etc..

    FOCUS on the damn devices and the integration required to get an incredible device experience! No one likes these devices because instead of being everything to everyone they’re nothing to no one; pick a scenario, pick a device and make it the best damn device for that scenario possible and sell a crapload of them and get yourself a premium brand in the process, then rinse and repeat. This is what Intel should be spending their marketing dollars on and this is what can help them keep their exorbiant 60% markup.

    Now pay me my $1 million consulting fee and get to it, Intel!


  19. ross says:

    There’s always some hesitation with doing something like Google’s Nexus or Microsoft’s Surface brands.

    Also, I doubt Intel would want an “Intel Premium Arm-based convertible tablet.” :)

  20. adamaindublin says:

    “Also, I doubt Intel would want an “Intel Premium Arm-based convertible tablet.”

    Good point, Ross! (Intel, just $500k will be sufficient.)


  21. adamaindublin says:

    Do people obsess over Brembo brakes in a sports car? -Do people rush out to buy a car because it has Brembo brakes? Are the brakes the brand that drives people to go out and buy the car?

    Is Brembo dumb enough to try to directly court consumers to buy some category of cars that contains only their brakes? -Of course not. People buy the car for the car. Brembo realizes that their customer IS the car companies.

    Intel: News Flash” Your customer is PC manufactures; not consumers -quit wasting your flipping money courting consumers who don’t give a flying @#$% about your processors and keep that money and use it to help the manufactures provide a better experience that actually WILL get experience.

    Intel just needs to get over their ego. They make commodity chips for computers; consumers today are like honey badgers -they just don’t give a shit about you, Intel. It’s the hardware MFGRs you need to convince and you need to convince them by helping them to produce premium, well integrated devices that provide a great experience. -Touting BS increases in performance and power efficiency mean jack shit today.

    It drives me insane that Intel has the ability to execute on these things better than anyone but their strategic head is up their ass and they keep chasing the old model… *Sigh*

  22. guy says:

    “help the manufactures provide a better experience that actually WILL get experience.”
    “helping them to produce premium, well integrated devices that provide a great experience.”

    Isn’t that what Intel has been trying (and apparently failing) to do? They created the first ultrabook reference design and tried to get manufacturers to adhere to it. Now Intel has made another reference design with touch, GPS, accelerometer, etc. Chippy has one of them I believe. Despite these prototypes, OEMs still went with competing at the bottom of the barrel and cut corners everywhere. OEMs just aren’t listening.

    Yes, Intel has put up resources for marketing which also doesn’t seem to be very successful. I guess telling consumers to tell OEMs to make ultrabooks seems like a good idea. I’m not a marketing expert.

    I guess Intel had a good idea but apparently it’s hard to make it a reality.

  23. DavidC1 says:

    If you believe you are so smart, do it yourself.

    Much of executing a vision is about EXECUTION itself. It doesn’t matter you have what it takes to get us to 2050 technology, if you can’t execute it.

    I agree with guy, manufacturers need to step up their game too.

  24. adamaindublin says:

    End Intel Rant (I put this in tags before, not realizing that they get edited out.)


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