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Lighter laptops, bigger wars

Lower prices and higher processing power will see the competition intensify in the mobile market.

Read time 3min 50sec

Netbooks have shaken up the computer market to such an extent that consumers can expect the twin benefits of lower laptop prices with the kind of processing power they normally expect to pay a premium for.

The arrival on the scene of cheaper devices is part of one of the biggest technology trends in the coming year, according to Creative Strategies president Tim Bajarin. This, he says, will dovetail with all-out war on the operating system and semi-conductor fronts, followed by some “very exciting” innovations in design and form factor.

Speaking at the IFA International Press Conference in Malta, Bajarin, who among other things consults for the likes of Apple, IBM/Lenovo, HP and Dell, said these trends are forcing the overall digital market towards mobility. “If 1981 marked the beginning of the journey from analogue to digital, the first 25 years were focused entirely on bringing digital to business; the next 25 will focus on bringing it to the masses,” he said.

Bajarin pointed to the reality that the mobile technology market is currently in a state of flux, driven largely by full-featured cellphones, despite significant growth in the smartphone sector. This latter category has caught the likes of Intel on the hop, according to Bajarin: “Intel was pushing its Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) to market based on the concept of 'the net in your pocket', but the iPhone put massive pressure on their success in that area, as did the rise of other smartphone devices. In the wake of this, MIDs were left largely without a place in the market,” he said, pointing out that Intel's drive towards a “low-cost thin and light” laptop category has been skewed by the unforeseen popularity of the netbook, which has caused the chip giant to rush to incorporate their “Atom” processor technology in those devices.

Small is big, but thin is in

Netbooks are a “hot category”, according to Bajarin, with 10 million sold in 2008 and a projected 21 million in sales this year. He describes this success as having a “devastating effect” on the PC and laptop markets, but says the industry will almost certainly respond (and recover) by forcing a shift towards low-cost “thin and light” notebooks by the end of this year. Thin and lights will be larger than netbooks, but smaller and lighter than the current crop of 'value notebooks' and will be priced in the $600-$1 100 bracket.

“The 'value notebook' market will continue to be strong, but these aren't really mobile products,” said Bajarin. “The netbook effect means that laptops priced in and around the $1 000 market are dead. Netbooks have completely re-set consumer perceptions of what a laptop should cost, even if common understanding of what a netbook can do is rather misplaced.” Bajarin described the current crop of ultra-light laptops with their sexy good looks as “executive jewellery” unlikely to make any significant further inroads to the market once the lower-cost thins hit the shelves wholesale.

Netbooks are a “hot category”, according to Tim Bajarin, with 10 million sold in 2008 and a projected 21 million in sales this year.

Pamela Weaver, ITWeb contributor

Once Intel's next-generation ultra-low voltage (ULV) processors and similar offerings from AMD arrive, the superior processing power and larger screens (Bajarin says up to 15.6-inches) should shake the netbooks market all over again - music to the ears of the manufacturers who are finding the low-margins on netbooks difficult to palate.

Microsoft is also likely to be happier about the prospect of finally being able to kill XP, which has found its swansong on the lower-powered netbooks while pulling in only a rumoured $15 a pop for Redmond - around a quarter of what it can normally charge for its bulkier Vista and forthcoming Windows 7 offerings. While this might be deemed money well spent to ensure a new generation of users were steered away from becoming too familiar with Linux, it's unlikely that Microsoft will want to carry a loss leader like that for much longer when the more attractive, lower-cost thin and lights come along.

* The IFA Press Conference, which took place in Malta from 16-19 April, was a precursor to the main event: the IFA Trade Show, to be held in Berlin from 4-9 September 2009. It regularly debuts the most products worldwide. For more information on IFA, visit www.ifa-berlin.com.

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