Here Come the New PC Form Factors

IT departments have had to pay attention to smartphones and tablets. The major forces behind BYOD, or “bring your own device” to work, have forced anyone with an information technology degree to reconsider how businesses work with technology and the way applications must provide access to employees and customers.

As if that wasn’t enough change, there is a new general form factor in PCs: the Ultrabook. Developed by Intel as an answer to Apple’s MacBook Air, Ultrabooks are thin and light notebooks with long battery life and a fast boot-up time. They haven’t been the biggest sellers so far, but some changes in market dynamics could make them very popular. The potential for Ultrabooks is obvious. Classic consumer demand pressures on system manufacturers have been to make devices smaller and lighter with greater battery life.

Some Ultrabooks weigh less than 2.5 pounds, and all have relatively small physical dimensions. They typically can run for hours without a recharge. Ultrabooks run Windows, which means you can use the same software packages as on Windows desktops. And unlike netbooks, which were explicitly designed to be less powerful to discourage people from moving to less expensive systems, Ultrabooks can sport multi-core processors and reasonable amounts of RAM.

Ultrabooks have suffered from a few problems, according to analysts. One is price. They’ve often hovered around the $1,000 point or above, and that is seen by many people as simply too much money, when regular laptops can go for far less. Also, with Windows 8 around the corner and promising a touch interface as well as mouse capabilities, many people have been waiting to purchase new equipment. However, analysts say that some of that may change in the near future.

Windows 8 is expected out in the fall, and by the end of the year, Ultrabook prices could plummet to close to $600. All this could fuel big growth in sales. For example, Lenovo is betting that Ultrabooks could push its sales past HP’s. In addition, there is some interesting experimentation in product design that will appear, like the convertible Ultrabook that can act either as a notebook or as a tablet. Asus, for one, will have a Windows 8 device that emulates its Android-based Transformer, where a tablet can connect to a docking station, which adds a keyboard and touchpad for operation. Acer apparently got intuitive multi-touch right on a touchpad.

What does all this mean to IT professionals? A lot of research, examination, and consideration. Not all these variations will work. But given the push that Intel and hardware vendors are making, some will likely take off. Companies have to know what will ultimately be successful so they can adapt software to yet another type of form factor to better support users.