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Shipments of ultraslim notebooks to fatten in 2013

Makers of ultraslim panels and suppliers of touch screens are making it tough for PC vendors to get their notebooks to stores. Still, research firm NPD DisplaySearch sees shipments growing this year.

A look at shipments of ultraslim PCs between 2012 and 2017.
A look at shipments of ultraslim PCs between 2012 and 2017. NPD Display Search

Ultraslim notebooks -- defined as x86-based PCs with screen sizes between 10 and 17 inches and thicknesses of no greater than 21mm -- are seeing shipments squeezed by display technology, a new study from NPD DisplaySearch has revealed. But that won't be enough to keep them down.

"The high-end specifications for touch on Windows 8 PCs, and the unproven consumer demand for touch on notebooks has touch-screen suppliers leery of shifting capacity from the high volume smartphone and tablet PC markets to notebook PCs," Richard Shim, senior analyst with NPD DisplaySearch, said today in a statement.

According to NPD, touch-panel suppliers are more likely to work with smartphone and tablet vendors than PC companies, because of the rapidly increasing demand for those products. The ultraslims are also feeling pressure from panel suppliers, who are increasingly turning their backs on the extremely thin displays -- measuring 0.4mm or thinner -- found in those products.

"Only two panel suppliers, AUO and Innolux, are taking on the extra expense of using ultraslim glass to offer panels in any significant volumes," Shim said.

The issue for the suppliers is that the glass in ultraslim displays is extremely fragile, requiring them to use special equipment for transportation. That special equipment drives up costs.

Still, PC vendors aren't turning their backs on the technology. In fact, NPD DisplaySearch expects 44.2 million ultraslim notebooks to ship this year, representing 21.4 percent of the entire notebook market. What's more, touch-screen penetration in notebooks could hit 13.1 percent, or 27.2 million notebooks.

Looking ahead, NPD DisplaySearch believes ultraslims will represent a larger slice of the notebook market. In 2017, for example, total shipments could hit 100 million worldwide.

Though NPD was careful not to use the "ultrabook" name in its evaluation of ultraslims, that spec falls in line with the research firm's parameters on what an ultraslim PC is. Ultrabooks, however, have been hit with a wide array of woes aside from display-panel issues, including declining demand owing to high prices and the increasing popularity of tablets.

Last year, IHS iSuppli was forced to cut its 2012 ultrabook shipment figures from 22 million to 10.3 million. That research firm made no indication that it believes the ultrabook market will have a dramatic turnaround in 2013.