Ultrabooks will grow at three times the rate of tablets over the next five years, according to Juniper Research, with shipments expected to reach 178 million by 2016.
While overall notebook shipment volumes will be largest in the Asia Pacific region by 2016, Juniper expects the largest markets for Ultrabooks to be North America and Western Europe, where consumers are in general more affluent.
Ultrabooks are a new class of thin and light laptops, powered by Intel's second generation core processors, and promoted as an alternative to tablet PCs. The name Ultrabook is a trademark of Intel, which means the company can control which devices carry its brand.
Intel states that Ultrabooks must be less than 21mm thick and offer between 5 and 8 hours of battery life. They should also be able to start up almost instantly and be enabled with features that help protect themselves and their users.
According to the report's author Daniel Ashdown, Ultrabooks are finally enabling the industry to respond to Apple's Macbook Air, which retains a niche segment of the market due to its consistently high price. However, Ashdown warns that Ultrabooks will not achieve mass market success until Intel works out how to bring down costs.
“While Intel's control of the brand ensures that Ultrabooks stand out from traditional notebooks, vendors face a balancing act in terms of product strategy,” said Ashdown. “Meeting Intel's specification secures brand status and funding, but the step-change from notebooks means many of today's Ultrabooks are too expensive for many consumers.”
The current generation of Intel Ultrabooks cost upward of £700, with some models, such as the HP Envy 14, retailing at around £1,000. Intel expects some 70 new Ultrabooks models this year and is hoping that its next-generation Ivy Bridge platform, arriving in April, will drive down the cost of Ultrabooks to bring the thin and light laptops into the mainstream.
Intel Capital has also created a $300 million fund in August 2011, aimed at funding technologies that will help deliver new and enhanced user experiences, longer battery life and slim component and platform technologies.
The report also found that Windows 8 will play a pivotal role in driving Ultrabook adoption, with extended battery life, always-on-always-connected capability and other functionalities coming with Microsoft's next OS. However, tablet PCs will continue to cannibalise the segment, with 253 million expected to be shipped in 2016.
Intel is not the only company hoping to challenge the Macbook's dominance. Last week it was reported that AMD is preparing chipsets for thin laptops that would cost up to £130 ($200) less than an Intel-powered Ultrabook. AMD’s ultrathin laptops will use the company’s Trinity chips, and will start from around £350.
AMD is set to launch its platform, codenamed Ultrathin, in June.