Remember Ultrabooks? Yeah, That Was A Good Time

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An IHS report has estimated that 10.3 million Ultrabooks shipped (not sold) worldwide in 2012, a considerably change from their original forecast of 22 million sold this year. 2013 should be OK, though, right? Wrong. IHS is expecting sales of 44 million in 2013, down from a forecast of 61 million.

Now those numbers are arguably nothing to sneeze at. There are dozens of OEMs and resellers flogging their wares and with Windows 8 around the corner it’s hard to convince the average consumer to pick up an ultralight let alone a PC.

Writes Craig Stice, senior principal analyst IHS:

“So far, the PC industry and Intel 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.”

So what’s going on here? Well, the thin and light is not a good fleet machine and that’s where most sales in the PC world go right now. Devices with no VGA ports, optical drives, or Ethernet are hard sells for IT guys picking up a few hundred or a few thousand laptops at a pop.

For all the talk of “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Devices, for those not bombarded by PR pitches all day), the standard Non-BYOD is a Dell or HP laptop that is about as exciting as a ball of aluminum foil. Then add in the popularity of tablet computers on the couch and as a passive browsing device and you get a very poor environment for a thin and light – even a MacBook Air.

IHS also claims that price is an issue, with the average Ultrabook hitting $1,000 or more. This forces the Ultrabook into the premium category mostly because the built costs on a new motherboard/chassis design are far higher than just taking a stock board and sticking it into a case with some headroom.

Finally, like Gretchen trying to make ‘fetch’ happen, Intel throws its weight behind platforms that often have little to do with real life. They pushed Centrino, touch screens, and tablets long before anyone was ready and manufacturers were all but forced to implement them or risk shipping problems. Intel forces manufacturers to play ball, and often it’s not the right game. At least not the right time.

Prior to Intel’s large Centrino, notebooks generally did not have WiFi. Notebooks were generally portable desktop machines, requiring wired ethernet to connect to the Web. But Intel pushed Centrino and while the notebooks did not sell in large numbers, the platform advanced notebook computers. Then came Intel’s ultraportable push which paired low-voltage CPUs with optimized Windows installs to squeech extra life out of batteries. This model also allowed for thin, albeit under-powered machines. But ultraportables paved the way for Ultrabooks, which sport fully capable CPUs with the latest batteries. The Intel-branded Ultrabook might quickly sink away from mainstream, but it will have a lasting effect on notebook design.

Maybe Ultrabooks will get a second wind after Win8. I doubt it. Surface is what people are looking to as the next big thing and Microsoft is still more important to manufacturers than Intel ever will be. In the end, maybe the Ultrabook will be one of those things Intel does that flops yet ultimately pushes notebook technology just a bit further down the field.