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Caroline Chen, a notebook analyst at TrendForce, said that business procurement of notebooks was also stable in 2014 as companies upgraded their laptops. In 2015, TrendForce expects a more diverse array of products will enter the notebook market along with a new operating system.
Facing intense competition from smartphones – phablets, in particular – and low-priced notebooks, tablets could eventually be forced out of the market unless manufacturers develop a new business model for them.
Tablets performed poorly in 2014 while notebooks did increasingly well. These products are interchangeable because of their similar features. Overall, 366 million mobile PCs (notebook computers and tablets) were shipped in 2014, which was similar to the previous year, according to TrendForce’s research.
“This means that some users who had switched over to tablets returned to notebooks,” Chen said.
“We expect overall demand to stagnate in the mobile PC market over the next few years as high competition among brands, operating systems and products forces some manufacturers to exit the market.”
TrendForce also pointed out 3 key trends in the mobile PC market in 2015:
2-in-1 PCs have the greatest growth potential, Touchscreen notebooks will stagnate
While the 2-in-1 PC is not a new product, prices have come down to reasonable levels and specifications are improving, which will help shipments grow fast in 2015. Typically, 2-in-1 PCs are 10-13 inches in size. In this segment, the key products are Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 and the 12.9-inch iPad Max, which is expected to launch next year.
New sizes such as 11 inch, 12 inch and 13.1 inch and new panels with 3:2 and 4:3 aspect ratio are also important to the development of the 2-in-1 PC market. In 2014, 2-in-1 PCs accounted for 4-5% of the overall notebook, but that figure is expected to rise to 8-10% in 2015.
Windows 10 has returned to desktop design, which means a return of the keyboard and mouse for regular Clamshell NB users. Once the desktop user environment returns, the chance for the users to use touch-screen controls will be even lower. TrendForce forecasts that the penetration for the Clamshell NB will be only 9% in 2014 and will not increase further in 2015.
Microsoft, Google and Intel subsidies affect the market
Google’s low-cost Chromebook notebook computer performed well this year, benefiting from its cloud storage capacity and strong data security capabilities. But Chromebook sales were affected by Microsoft’s subsidized low-cost Windows notebooks. In 2014, Google sold about 6.5 million Chromebooks and the device’s market penetration reached 4%. But if Chromebook uses the 2-in-1 PC concept, it will be difficult for Google to keep the device’s price low, Chen said. TrendForce forecasts Chomebook sales will increase slightly to 8 million units in 2015.
This year, Microsoft and Intel both launched subsidy plans for their notebooks and tablets, which had reduced their revenues.
“Because they lower manufacturers’ costs, subsidies indirectly benefit consumers, but it will be better if Microsoft and Intel can find more substantial ways to develop the market, such as by utilizing the 2-in-1 concept or cloud computing,” Chen said.
For tablets, developing new applications is key
In 2014, major tablet manufacturers like Apple and Samsung saw shipments decline and even stagnate. That shows that incentives are low for customers to purchase new tablets, Chen said. She cautioned against use low prices as a way to refocus consumers’ attention on tablets.
“In the short run, low prices can boost sales, but the ultimate result may be negative,” she said.
“In the case of a price war, smaller brands may be forced to exit the market and product differentiation vanishes.”
Still, low-priced tablets have the potential to be used in some niche markets such as early childhood education or the food and beverage industry, Chen said. In this type of scenario, content service will be the key for tablets to remain relevant in the future, she added.
Lastly, as the red-hot 2-in-1 PC market grows fast, it will take market share away from tablets. It will be imperative for tablet manufacturers to find a way out of that conundrum.
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