Laptops: thinner, cheaper, more powerful and… touch-based
Back in 2007, Asus created the Netbook category with the launch of the Eee PC at Computex Taipei, a tiny laptop that cost less than $200. The product was a response to the OLPC, an initiative started by the MIT in 2006, which offers a super cheap notebooks for kids in developing countries.
The emergence of the Netbook category was echoing the basic needs of consumers: at that point, entry level mobile computer technology seemed “good enough” for the majority of users who mainly used their laptops for messaging, web browsing and for productivity apps such as the Office suite. The sweet price point (below $300/$400) was particularly attractive during the recession years (2008/2009).
Of course, we “humans” always want more, those small computers were indeed not “good enough”, and we are now witnessing the disappearance of the Netbook category, thanks to the constant increase of computing power and the demand for good entertainment experience with smooth 1080p video playback. It is now easy to find a decent laptop with a powerful processor for under $500 that delivers way more performance than a Netbook. The rise of the tablets as a secondary computing device has surely helped this trend as well.
On the high-end side of the market, we are seeing the emergence of the ultra-thin laptop market segment, a trend initiated by Apple and its MacBook Air. Hoping to increase the size of the $1000 laptops market (dominated by the MacBook product line) in May 2011, Intel created a category labeled “UltraBook”. According to Intel: “This family of products will enable thin, light and beautiful designs that are less than 21mm (0.8 inch) thick”. The processor giant’s goal is to have these laptops make up 40 percent of its consumer laptop sales by the end of next year, a number that would more likely be reached by 2015, according to IHS iSuppli.
At a recent conference, Intel announced that touch-based ultrathin notebooks (ultrabooks) running Windows 8 will be a big focus for the company next year, this will definitively blur the line between the notebook and the tablet categories.
Tablets: thinner, faster with keyboard
Made popular by the iPad in January 2010, the tablet segment has grown tremendously ever since, with every single mobile device manufacturer launching its own version. With 68.3% share of the worldwide market in the second quarter of 2011, the Apple device is still dominating the category, although some serious competing devices has been recently launched, namely the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (May 2011) and the brand new Asus Transformer Prime (December 2011).
All devices are racing to be the world’s thinnest tablet, and Samsung holds the number one spot at 8.6 mm, topping the iPad 2 by 2 mm, until Asus launched the 8.3 mm thick Transformer Prime.
Tablets are dedicated to content consumption, their long battery life making them the perfect device to watch movies during long trips, in cars or planes. In order to deliver fluid HD video playback and great 3D gaming experience, powerful processors with low power are required, consequently, the computing power arm race is on as well.
Thanks to Windows 8 and Intel’s Ultrabook initiative, we will probably see the laptop and the tablet categories merge (or collide) at some point in the future, the trend might be confirmed sooner with the integration of keyboards in tablets. Asus is leading the way with the Transformer Prime and its perfectly designed removable keyboard that offers an additional 8-9 hours of battery life!
Smartphones: larger, thinner, faster
While laptops and tablets keep getting thinner, smartphones have actually gotten bigger. It may have started with 2.5” and 3.5” displays, but it is clear that with the rise of touch interfaces, the display real-estate has become a critical factor for comfort, both for the eyes and the fingers. Typing on a small virtual keyboard is completely doable and some people even do it quickly. However, the smaller the screen and the more control over the muscles the user needs to exert and that is uncomfortable. Today, the Samsung Galaxy Note is probably one of the biggest phone around with a screen size of 5.3”.
But getting bigger does not always mean getting heavier. In fact, some 4.3” phone do feel much lighter than 3.5” ones. Depending on your preferences you may want to use materials like glass and metal, but they come at a heavy price… literally! Obviously, no-one likes to feel “plastic” in their hands, but designers have managed to create light and very rigid handsets.
And surprisingly, those thinner and lighter devices are getting faster hardware and larger batteries. Right now, the smartphone market is going through an accelerated process of hardware evolution. It feels like what took decades on the PC is going to unfold over less than 10 years. This is just amazing. Phones are many times faster than they were just two years ago. If you picked up the original iPhone for the first Android phone today, they would feel very sluggish – because they are!