Ultrabooks will indubitably take center stage among the latest gadgetry showcased at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, but analysts expect tools that help manage devices and content to also steal the spotlight, as vendors target consumers and businesses dealing with increasing convergence of devices and data.
Held this week in Las Vegas, CES 2012 will see ultrabooks dominate the fray, said Rachel Lashford, Canalys' Asia-Pacific managing director for mobile. The show typically centers on the PC, notebook and tablet markets.
Tablets, the main attraction at CES 2011, will take a backseat to ultrabooks this year, Lashford said in a phone interview, adding that most of the tablets last year had either failed commercially or were never launched eventually.
Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum, concurred that ultrabooks would take most of the limelight at CES 2012. The collapse of the netbook market, the dominance of Apple, and the threat of smartphones and tablets all mean that CES this year will see a large number of PC vendors "fight back" with ultrabooks, Dawson said in an e-mail.
"Tablets have really killed off the netbook category over the last couple of years, but manufacturers haven't been able to make a success of tablets," he explained. "On the other hand, Apple has down very well [with] MacBook Air, which established that there is demand for laptops offering more or less full-sized keyboards and screens, but with lighter form factors. We've already seen a fair number of [ultrabooks]. CES should see an explosion in this category."
Although they acknowledged that Android tablets, the biggest stars at last year's show which eventually did little to dent the popularity of Apple's iPad, both analysts had optimistic projections for ultrabook sales post-CES.
Dawson said: "It is by no means guaranteed [but] there is already established demand for the ultrabook category, and there is no reason why Windows-based devices at price points near or below that of the MacBook Air shouldn't do very well."
Lashford also noted that Canalys' outlook for ultrabooks was "pretty positive", and expects this category to become an important PC subcategory. However, she added that while a good reception at CES can serve as a sign of future market success, the show is ultimately U.S.-centric. "[So] it can be a bit tweaked and inward-focused, rather than globally-focused," she said.
Content, device management get prominence
Lashford added that she expects this year's CES to focus on tools for content management, ranging from how content is stored, accessed and synced across devices, to how content can be made secure and be backed up, for instance, in the cloud.
Consumer electronics vendors will want to demonstrate how users can access content not just on their smartphone, tablet or PC, but also with their smart TV and car, she pointed out.
"Hardware vendors can't really survive without revenues from software, [given] the pressures on profit margins so, going forward, vendors will need to talk much more about software announcements and strategies which go hand-in-hand with how content is accessed," she said.
The Canalys analyst pointed out that with the trends of consumerization of IT and bring-your-own (BYO) device at today's workplace, the reverse is now taking place where it is the consumer now who has all the latest and greatest gadgets first, which then spill over into the enterprises.
"Hence, mobile device management, from the individual's point of view will also be brought into how an enterprise manages that as well," Lashford said.
Ovum's Dawson added that the challenge of managing consumer-oriented gadgets once they enter the enterprise environment will lead to "more noise" at CES from vendors aiming to solve these problems for IT departments.
"Even though CES is about consumer electronics, there will be more and more enterprise announcements, too, for that very reason," he said.
For instance, while Android-related product announcements from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and original design manufacturers (ODMs) obviously eye consumer market share, they will also target Apple's tablet hegemony among enterprises, he said.
Hence, enterprise-focused mobile device management, data security capabilities and partnerships will be featured at CES, he said. This could include user interface-based approaches, whereby, a user can differentiate access permissions on their devices when using enterprise resources as opposed to when it is operated for personal use, Dawson explained.
Ultrabooks from the show
Product announcements from the show have begun trickling in, including the launch of Nokia's flagship Lumia 900, its first LTE-capable handset running on Windows Phone 7.
Dawson described this as the Finnish phone maker's "first serious step into the U.S. [market] with its Windows Phone line", noting that the Lumia 710--unveiled last year--was announced as a low-end offering and "isn't the best advertisement for Windows Phone on Nokia".
As expected, various ultrabooks have also made their appearance at CES including Dell's first ultrabook, the XPS 13 Ultrabook; HP's Envy 14 Spectre; Asus' latest Zenbook; Lenovo's ThinkPad T430u; and Samsung's Series 9 and Series 5 ultrabook range.