With the traditional PC apparently heading the way of the abacus, market research firm IHS is proposing a radical course of action: that Intel Corp. cut the price of chips supplied to PC makers to enable ultrathin touch-screen PCs that appeal to consumers and cost just $200.
It's just an idea at this point, but IHS believes it could become reality. If so, such lower priced notebooks may stem the tide of the last year and stop tablets from cutting into PC sales.
According to IHS, Zane Ball, vice president and general manager of global ecosystem development, is set to present his company's plan to empower the PC industry to produce low-cost notebooks with touchscreens Monday (May 20) at an IHS event in Vancouver, Canada.
To date, Intel's initiative to re-invigorate the PC industry by pushing Ultrabooks and other models of ultrathin notebooks has not achieved wide scale success. Meanwhile, PC sales continue to contract as consumers increasingly opt for tablets, which generally cost less and provide more mobility and convenience.
According to Craig Stice, senior principal analyst for compute platforms at IHS, a $200 ultrathin notebook seems a little far fetched at first glance, considering that many Ultrabooks and ultrathins currently on the market go for $1,000 or more. But Stice believes Intel has a shot at making it work.
"The small laptops known as netbooks saw their prices reach down into the $200 range at the height of their popularity a few years ago, and a cost analysis of netbooks shows how such a low level of pricing can be used to support a no-frills type of ultrathin PC," Stice said, in a statement.
The cost estimate for a standard netbook, based on the IHS Compute Systems Cost Analyzer that calculates the major components of a netbook on a third-quarter 2013 timeline, comes out to $207.82. .
"Hitting this kind of price point is not impossible for the PC industry, already a cutthroat market accustomed to razor-thin margins," Stice said.
Stice noted that Paul Otellini, Intel's out-going CEO, predicted during a recent earnings call that touch-enabled, ultrathin Intel-based notebooks using non-core processors could be available by the end of this year.
Not everyone agrees with IHS's vision. "Yes, a $200 PC would spur demand, but it misses the point," said Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at Tirias Research. "Computing is changing. People are moving away from the traditional PC platforms just as they did from the desktop to the notebook."
In a recent blog posting on EE Times, McGregor maintained that wearable computers would be a driving force for computing in the future. He believes the definition for what is widely considered computing is changing.
"While the PC is still a viable market, it is not the technology driver or a high-growth market, nor will it ever be again," McGregor said. " I would argue that Intel needs to push for a $200 PC just to maintain sales of the existing form factors."
A key question is whether Intel is willing to sacrifice its margins to make chips available to PC OEMs at a low enough cost that this could become a reality. But with the PC business—Intel's lifeblood—on life support, the No. 1 chip vendor may have to make some bold choices.
Could a $200 Ultrabook be made? Probably. *Should* one be? Er, *why?*
Folks here may remember the UMPC that Intel and Microsoft cooked up years back, based on Microsoft's Origami research project. Intel and MS both faced the question "Where will growth come from?", as the PC market was largely saturated. Their answer was a whole new platform that would use Intel chips and run a flavor of Windows.
What they didn't provide was a compelling use case, and a reason why folks who probably already *had* a desktop/laptop/notebook would buy one. The folks signed up to make them were people like Samsung and Via Technologies, who weren't seen as players in the laptop/notebook space. Traditional OEMs in that space like Dell, Jujitsu, and Toshiba were notably absent. And the specs seemed carefully designed to make a device that *couldn't* replace a laptop, yet *replacing* a laptop with a smaller, lighter, cheaper device is about the only reason anyone *would* get one.
This strikes me as more of the same. The projected device, if it sold at all, would be cannibalizing the existing laptop/notebook market, competing with bread and butter lines at a cheaper price. The number of *new* sales it would make to people who didn't own one would likely be small, and as mentioned, the specs would mean a poor user experience.
Someone might decide to try to make this. If I were Intel, I might sell them CPUs, but I certainly wouldn't take the lead in driving the creation.
Dylan, it seems me that Intel is trying to 'beat' ARM at this 'low-end' market game. So profit margin (or lack thereof!) may not be the primary motive. Rather, survival while sustaining losses and the opponent eventually extinguishes itself is the primary motive!
I agree Frank... but Intel could be on to something here. As I commented below, a strategy of outspending your competitions to their demise may work in favor of Intel in the long run.
With that said, there is a huge developing world market where $200 Ultrabook can serve as a computing platform, particularly in the schools. Though the margins may be smaller, Intel can realize some collateral benefits.
"Well, the point is a cheap, very basic device that can handle Facebook, YouTube, and maybe some SaaS aps" ... you mean a 99$ tablet? the one that can have ard 10 hr battery life too..
I doubt whether anyone would want to use an under performing notebook for this purpose
theoretically you are right.. but I doubt how practical the idea is..
Till now Intel isnt successful in coming up with a CPU that has similar performance at similar power range that of a ARM CPU. But lets assume for the time being , that they are able to do this. Even then focusing mainly on these devices, will kill their margins for a long time and Intel stock will take the beating. Its market cap will dip to 10-20% of its current value.
CEOs are paid based on the performance of the company on a short term basis.. at best if in long term it will be 1-5 years. But such a decision will destroy the margins forever, and there is no motivation for the management to do so as their bonuses are going to be unpaid. You can see this from Intel's comments on ARM's business model http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4199302/Intel-CEO-says-the-ARM-way-is-no-way-to-make-money/
Look from another angle,
For ARM the R&D cost of its CPU is shared with its licensees. For Eg, Qualcomm/NVdia/Apple/Samsung all spend R&D $s in advancing ARM architecture and lowering the power.. For Intel to go against this will take a huge $$$ investment over a long period of time to catch up anywhere near where ARM currently is.
Inshort, the way Intel is structured now and its business model, practices has too much inertia to change its model to ARM's way..
@eewiz: good points! What I stated above assumed that Intel will keep its margins and market share in other higher margin products while sustaining a loss-leading lower margin business against ARM. But that is not assured and can result in irrecoverable damage. And to make matters worse, the margins seem to be eroding all across the board these days so this is a tough quandary for Intel.
I see merit in what @Bert22306 says below -Intel should find other higher margin products including IP. After all, Intel is known for its strong engineering team. Together with that and its fab services, this could result in a sustainable business model.