Coming Soon: The $200 Touch Notebook PC
Personal computer manufacturers have their backs against a wall. Competition has been fierce for years: so much so that IBM sold off its PC division nearly a year ago and HP considered a similar move, only to be knocked to the floor by investors who worried about revenue and share value. Tablets and smartphones have redefined what most people and employees need in computing, and at price tags that put them in easy reach.
Microsoft is working on Windows 8.1, an updated version that is expected to offer users a choice of going directly to the more familiar desktop rather than having to use the touch-optimized tile interface. But that is unlikely to stop the slide of popularity.
What could help--and is now possible, according to analyst firm IHS--is a $200 ultra thin notebook PC with a touchscreen. Low cost desktops have been possible for years, including a $100 configuration including a monitor. But that has meant lower power and no mobility. A full, light, slim notebook at a price that's a fraction of what Ultrabooks command could be compelling.
The Costs Are Aligning
Critical to a low-cost PC that might drive renewed interest is a significant reduction in cost of major components, including the CPU. At an IHS event earlier this week, Zane Ball, vice president and general manager of Intel's Global Ecosystem Development group, said that the chip giant will push to make low-cost touchscreen notebooks possible. As Craig Stice, senior principal analyst for computing platforms at IHS, was quoted in an IHS press release:
"A price point that low seems far-fetched considering the mobile PC prices of today, with Ultrabooks and other ultrathins going as high as $1,000 or more," Stice said. "However, 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."
Will It Take Off?
So, would users give up some power and maybe features? Probably. Intel and the PC vendors still want to court higher margin business. However, tablets have proven that there is a potentially big market for people who need less than a regular notebook, want touch, and find a low price point attractive.
Given the market dynamics, it seems almost a sure bet that the vendors will look for something to replace the once-brisk netbook market. And at $200, if a device could still be light, have good battery life, and offer a larger screen, a keyboard, and touch, chances are that many traveling businesspeople would be tempted.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.