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Ultrabooks to see fast growth, says analyst

Ultrabooks' share of the laptop market is expected to jump in the coming years but price remains a challenge, according to IHS-iSuppli. Windows 8 will also be crucial to spurring the market.

Ultrabooks will capture more than 40 percent of the laptop market by 2015, becoming, in effect, a counterweight to tablets like Apple's iPad, according to market researcher IHS-iSuppli.

In a research note titled "Ultrabooks to Deliver Ultrafast Growth," iSuppli sees these svelte Windows laptops that run on Intel processors taking 43 percent of the laptop market by 2015.

Currently, Windows 7-based ultrabooks from vendors such as Acer and Asus compete with Apple's MacBook Air. But new designs based on Windows 8 and future Intel processors in the coming years are expected to make them attractive alternatives to tablets.

Before 2015, growth is forecast to jump from 2 percent in 2011 to 13 percent in 2012, then to just under 30 percent in 2013. (See chart above.)

Intel raised some eyebrows earlier this year with a bullish prediction that ultrabooks would take 40 percent of the market in 2012. That seems highly unlikely in light of iSuppli's forecast and comments from Acer and Asus last month.

The Asus Aspire S3 ultrabook debuted at $899. But that may still be too pricey for mass-market appeal.
The Asus Aspire S3 ultrabook debuted at $899. But that may still be too pricey for mass-market appeal. CNET Reviews

But consumers' preferences will change as they become more acclimated to skinny devices that offer laptop-like utility, such as the iPad and upcoming Amazon Kindle Fire. "To compete with media tablets, notebook PCs must become sexier and more appealing to consumers," said Matthew Wilkins, an iSuppli analyst, in a statement today.

"With media tablets having already reversed the expansion of the previously fast-growing netbook platform, PC makers now are keenly aware that the notebook must evolve to maintain market growth and relevance," Wilkins wrote. Apple's iPad is driving a lot this growth.

Windows 8 will be a boon to ultrabooks. That operating system will have an advanced touch interface and be more power efficient--in effect, tailor-made for the ultrabook. And Intel's vision of the ultrabook is closely aligned with Windows 8, Wilkins said.

That said, prices will have to come down. Acer made a splash last month when it announced its ultrabook for $899 (and it's selling for as little as $840 at some resellers). But that's still pricey and out of the reach for a lot of consumers.

Prices will need to be closer to $699 or even $599 to trigger broader buying patterns, according to Deron Kershaw, an analyst at Gap Intelligence.

What will an ultrabook look like in 2015? Nobody knows, of course. Nor is it likely that a special naming scheme will even be relevant at that point. But expect a raft of very thin hybrid devices that offer the best of the laptop and tablet.