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Playing Offense in Innovation

As the world continues to fancy smartphones and tablets, the notebook market appears to be falling into limbo. Many people believe that smartphones and tablets are the only future for computing devices and that the notebook is a dying product, even with its new make-up (i.e., Ultrabook or ultraportable).

At the beginning of 2012 there was much excitement around the introduction of a new form factor called Ultrabook married with Windows 8. At {complink 7526|Semico Research Corp.}, we were also excited about this new platform and expected computer manufacturers to take the general guidelines set forth by {complink 2657|Intel Corp.} and innovate off of them to create an exciting new computing platform. As the year progressed, Windows 8 was delayed, and innovation in the design and implementation of the ultraportable lacked creative and critical thinking by designers.

PC manufacturers have taken a defensive posture trying to protect their market share and pricing structure of the computing market versus taking an offensive approach by offering innovative designs. It appears that most computer manufacturers lack the understanding of the consumer and how their usage model has changed as a result of smartphones and tablets. PC manufacturers have taken some of the smartphone and tablet innovations but are only incorporating them in bits and pieces and not embracing them in their totality. We believe this is a major mistake and one reason why we see a slower adoption rate for these new platforms.

Instant-on is a great feature that consumers love and are growing to expect that in their electronics. PC manufacturers have adopted solid-state drives to achieve the near instant-on ability, but most still attach a heavy rotating hard drive that sucks power and adds weight. Maybe PC manufacturers haven’t noticed that consumers are buying tablets and smartphones by the hundreds of millions with SSD capacity of 64GB or less. A 3.0 USB port is now standard and would allow consumers to have an external large rotating hard drive for additional storage space that they would not have to carry with them all the time.

Touchscreen is universally accepted by consumers, yet the PC manufacturers only offer touchscreen or gesture control in a few models and are holding the touchscreen option as a premium product. Really? PC manufacturers need to get with the times. For the PC to survive, it needs to compete with the smartphone and tablet. That means a manufacturer must offer all of the features, not just one or two of them.

Weight and battery life has always been critical. Some manufacturers have gone to aluminum cases to add strength to the thinner Ultrabooks. This may not be enough. Think outside the box: How about using carbon fiber for the screen backing? It’s lighter and stronger than aluminum and would add to a more innovative design.

Smartphones and tablets are great and have been described as “lean back” products, as they tend to be easier to use when relaxing in a chair. Traditional notebooks are described as lean forward devices as they are more appropriate when at a desk. There are several models of Ultrabooks that do convert into a tablet form factor, and this is where weight and performance becomes critical.

We believe the notebook market is not dead or dying; it tends to be a better device when you are creating content, versus just listening or watching. However, Ultrabooks need creative thinking to propel innovation in this product segment. Let’s get the offensive team back on the field and offer up a more exciting competition. To read the more detailed analysis on this subject in the December issue of the IPI, contact Rick Vogelei at rickv@semico.com.

2 comments on “Playing Offense in Innovation

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    December 8, 2012

    It is the fast pace of the innovation that is making some of the useful products ( which could last even for a decade) obsolete.

    Consumer is always attracted to the latest and with aggressive marketing, he feels left behind if he does not embrace the latest .

    In this scenario the established product manufacturers ( PC and Laptops) need to adapt some of the changes that the latest technology offers in terms of the storage, packaging, and UI.  For example Notebooks can offer dual facility fro touchscreens as well as the keyboards. They can have built in Solid state storage to increase the access speed and have capability to connect high capacity hard drives.

    Notebooks and PCs have been the work horses for IT industry for more than two decades and they will continue to be so for the next decade or so in my opinion.

  2. Cryptoman
    December 10, 2012

    I do agree that the PC manufacturers have to change the way they think. Touchscreens should become a standard on a PC as soon as possible. SSDs will also play a key role in extending the popularity of notebooks. However, cost of SSD for drive capacities 256GB and above are still very high.

    I think the expectation of PC and tablet/smartphone buyers are completely different. PCs are perceived as the work horses of computing and therefore a buyer will expect to find a 1 TB hard disk and a large screen on a PC. I don't think anybody will buy a PC with 32 GB SSD and a 10 inch touchscreen on it. The specs are simply too weak for a traditional PC. A PC buyer gets a PC to do proper work on it that involves typing on a traditional keyboard hours on end while staring at a decent sized screen. Let me tell you, although it may seem trivial, a mechanical keyboard is indeed quite important for work. I have spent quite a bit of time searching for the mechanical keyboard that had the right feel. There is hundreds of models out there but there is only a handful that does the job properly. I cannot imagine a software developer working on a tablet or a smartphone. It's just not feasible. Therefore, PCs will remain as the work horses of the computing world. They will surely become modernised with all the bells and whistles eventually but they will remain the platform of “prolonged working” in computing.

    Carbon fiber chassis is a good idea but how much does it cost compared to hardened plastic or aluminum?

    PCs are all about providing high computing performance at affordable costs and I think is still valid.

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