2012: The Year of the Ultrabook

The Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas each January typically sets the stage for what technophiles and gadget buyers can look forward to in the coming year in -- you guessed it -- consumer electronics.

Ultrabooks are in ... the air?
Judging by the pre-extravaganza presentations and announcements, one of the key themes this year will be Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) Ultrabooks. The chipmaker created the reference designs in response to Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) popular MacBook Air, which is why the new laptops borrow shamelessly from Cupertino's design aesthetic.

Intel is proud to say that more than 75 Ultrabook designs are forthcoming within the year, many of which will carry 14-inch to 15-inch screen sizes, with "many more on the way." Manufacturers will include familiar names like Lenovo, Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Dell, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , and VIZIO, among others. Yup, that's right. VIZIO is now expanding beyond its staple TV offerings and getting into the PC game, along with tablets.

An Ultrabook by any other name would be just as thin-and-light
Instead of being grouped with other Ultrabooks, VIZIO is shunning the moniker and instead calling its lineup the cumbersome "thin-and-light." The company says its notebooks will meet or exceed Intel's reference designs. Further taking cues from Apple, it will similarly use unibody construction to bolster the build quality.

Source: The Verge.

On top of that, VIZIO is coming out with an iMac-esque all-in-one desktop PC. VIZIO's entry is interesting because there aren't many major domestic PC vendors left standing. To be precise, there are two: Dell and HP, one of which was having a high-profile identity crisis during the tail end of last year, before deciding to stay in the biz. I'll give you three guesses as to which company fits that bill.

Source: The Verge.

You want in?
There's one word I would use to describe the Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows PC market: commoditized. Even though Ultrabooks promise to be the next major trend in laptops, most offerings will inevitably end up competing primarily on price, which doesn't bode well for manufacturers' pricing power or margins.

Why do you think IBM sold its PC operations to Lenovo nearly a decade ago? Why do you think HP considered doing the same? Good luck, VIZIO.

Start your engines
Intel will be launching a major marketing push throughout the year to promote its disseminated designs. April will be a pivotal month for the chip giant, since it will link its Ultrabook push to its new Ivy Bridge processors, built on next-generation 22-nanometer technology, which should also be released in that time frame.

Intel sales exec Kevin Sellers said, "By April, the marketing engines of Intel will turn on."

Can you hear me now?
Taking the future of Ultrabooks to the next level, Intel has hooked up with Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN  ) in a strategic partnership to facilitate a justifiable reason to yell at your laptop, other than losing that eBay auction in the last 2.4 seconds at 3 a.m. for those argyle socks you've been watching for a week.

Not only will some Ultrabooks include voice recognition and control, but they also may sport touchscreens, NFC capabilities, and motion controls. Touchscreen laptops would differ from Apple's approach, since the Mac maker found that interacting with a vertically positioned touchscreen is ergonomically uncomfortable after extended use and opted instead to use trackpads for touch input. Incorporating touchscreens into Ultrabooks makes some sense, considering Windows 8's heavy tilt toward touch interactions.

That being said, I wouldn't be remotely surprised if Siri, which also uses Nuance behind the scenes, were to find its way into Macs in the near future.

The year of the Ultrabook
Apple is used to having its successes chased, emulated, and blatantly ripped off. The widespread popularity of the MacBook Air, which may have sold as many as 1.2 million units over the holidays, with its slim and mobile design is bound to attract others.

The coming year will see dozens of new Ultrabooks flood the scene, hoping to steal sales from the MacBook Air. With as many offerings that are in the pipeline, we might as well call 2012 the year of the Ultrabook.

Apple's MacBook Air was inspired largely by what Cupertino learned from iOS and mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone. With iOS and Android leading the mobile revolution, some winners are hard to see -- because they're buried inside the gadgets. The proliferation of mobile gadgets is going to be breathtaking, and a handful of companies stand to rake in the profits as consumers snap up each year's latest and greatest models. We've just released a new special free report on 3 Hidden Winners of the iPhone, iPad, and Android Revolution. In it, you'll find three companies that supply crucial components that virtually every mobile device relies on. Check it out now -- it's free.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Intel, Microsoft, and IBM and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Intel, Microsoft, Dell, eBay, Apple, and Nuance Communications, writing puts in eBay, and creating bull call spread positions in Apple, Microsoft, and Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2012, at 7:55 AM, jdmeck wrote:

    ""I wouldn't be remotely surprised if Siri, ... were to find its way into Macs in the near future"" I would be willing to bet there will not be one update from Apple that doesn't include Siri built in or as a easy software update.

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