Dubai: Demand for the new and super-thin category of laptops, also known as ultrabooks, will rise in the next couple of years and pose a challenge for Apple's MacBook Air, industry experts said.

"Apple launched the MacBook Air in 2008, but vendors only launched the first Ultrabooks — a new category in mobile computing driven by Intel — in late 2011, Daniel Ashdown, research analyst at Juniper Research, said.

Characteristics of an Ultrabook include a chassis less than 21mm thick, fast boot time, SSD (solid-state device) storage in lieu of a traditional platter hard disk drive, and a longer battery life of more than eight hours.

He said vendors face a balancing act in terms of product and pricing strategies. Shipments of Ultrabooks will grow at three times the rate of tablets over the next five years to reach 178 million in 2016.He said right know Ultrabooks are too expensive for many consumers and is priced at more than $1,000 (Dh3,672).

Pivotal role

"Windows 8 will play a pivotal role in driving Ultrabook adoption and drive down shipments of netbooks just a third of today's volumes by 2016," Ashdown said. Despite Intel's bold outlook for the ultrabook form factor, Fouad Rafiq Charakla, senior research analyst at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey, expects the devices to garner only a small share of the Gulf's PC market. However, there is no doubt that ultrabooks will prove attractive to the consumer segment, so we expect to see this share increase rapidly as prices fall.

According to Santosh Varghese, general manager,Computer Systems Division, Toshiba Gulf, ultrabooks will arrest the growth of media tablets. Media tablets are not a productive tool. They are only used as second PCs. Ultrabooks will eat up around 30 per cent of the laptop category this year.

"It will take time for ultrabooks to pick up and by mid of next year we can see a big growth. Currently it will be around Dh4,000 and the prices has to come down," Varghese said.

"Ultrabooks will achieve over 40 per cent market share by 2015. Ultrabooks will represent 43 per cent of global notebook PC shipments in 2015, up from 2 per cent last year and 13 per cent this year. Ultrabook penetration of the notebook market will increase rapidly, rising to 28 per cent in 2013 and to 38 per cent in 2014," Len Jelinek, research director and analyst, semiconductor manufacturing at IHS iSuppli, said.

Brian Marshall, senior managing director at International Strategy & Investment Group, said, Apple's market share of ultrabooks will fall from 89 per cent in 2011 to 46 per cent this year and sliding to 32 per cent in 2013 as Windows PC manufacturers will jump on the ultrabook bandwagon in a big way this year. Apple will sell 8.4 million MacBook Air notebooks in 2012 and 10.4 million in 2013.

Marshall's projected non-Apple OEMs' sales of ultrabooks at nearly 10 million this year, giving them an estimated 54 per cent of the market. In 2013, the gap will widen between Apple and others, as the latter combine to sell 21.6 million machines for a 68 per cent share. However he added that none of the PC makers will beat Apple individually.

"If an attractive price point can be achieved and the consumer deems this a must-have product, the entire semiconductor manufacturing supply chain could rapidly reorient itself to serve the fast-growing ultrabook market," said Jelinek.

Future ultrabooks are expected to employ convertible form factors and touch screens, he said allowing owners to use these devices either as notebooks or tablets, depending on their needs.

The initial target market for ultrabooks will be consumers. However, PC makers also are likely to develop models aimed at corporate users.