PC makers seek antidote for tablets

Gitex 2011: Home-computer manufacturers are waging war on iPad-style devices with a new product line - the "ultrabook".

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Makers of home computers plan to wage war on tablets by unveiling "Ultrabooks" this week.

Ultrabooks are as thin and light as Apple's iPad - and they are the PC industry's latest hope for regaining diminishing market share.

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The new product category aims to bridge the gap between laptops and tablets, industry experts say.

"You are finding a lot of people increasingly using a tablet for things that they would have done on a laptop earlier," says Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer at Jacky's Electronics. "But these people still own two devices,"a laptop and tablet. "The Ultrabook … says 'let me do that for you on one device'."

The chip maker Intel owns the Ultrabook trademark and has set up a US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion) fund to help computer makers bolster this new product line.

Intel wants Ultrabooks to use its latest processor, which is 17 per cent faster than the processor in the average laptop today. Ultrabooks boast a battery life of at least five hours and require only seven seconds to start up.

Acer, the world's second-largest PC maker, is unveiling its Ultrabook at Gitex Shopper this week. It is looking to the product category to boost its flagging PC sales.

In August, the company reported its first quarterly loss in its history.

Acer's woes represent a larger malaise in the PC market. The research company Gartner cut its growth forecast for the global PC market this year from 9.3 per cent to 3.8 per cent. Gartner cited the slower economies of Europe and the US as well as a boom in tablet sales as reasons for the expected weaker growth in PC sales.

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The move to launch Ultrabooks is an urgent attempt by PC makers to stem declining sales. And Intel foresees Ultrabooks becoming mainstream computers in the next two years.

"We're expecting by the end of 2012 that 40 per cent of our consumer notebooks based on Intel architecture will be Ultrabook. And up to 2013 we're expecting 60 per cent of the consumer market based on Intel architecture to be in its Ultrabook form," says Nassir Nauthoa, Intel's general manager for the Gulf. "We're literally just kicking off with this product, so we're using Gitex as a kind of show-and-tell."

However, the supply of Ultrabooks in the Emirates will initially be small as the devices will be available only at the Gitex Shopper event this week. Units not sold at the event will make their way into electronics retail stores such as Jacky's.

"There is going to be a shortage in the beginning until the factories scale up and then get all the units out in the volumes that we expect," Mr Panjabi says.

Microsoft is one company that will monitor the levels of Ultrabook sales carefully, as the devices use the Windows 7 operating system.