With the prolonged slump in the local and global PC market, why do vendors and their channels still want a piece of the action?
Margins, especially for traditional notebooks with low or mid-grade features, have continually fallen in a trend that has also affected other IT hardware.
New Zealand shipment rates declined markedly throughout 2008, with quarter on quarter growth slowing from about 13 percent to minus seven percent. This was followed by another decline in the first quarter of this year (down 16 percent year on year), and a lesser decline in the second quarter.
However, what goes down must come back up, and analyst firm IDC is tipping a more buoyant market locally.
According to the company, this could be led by notebooks, of which the consumer end of the market has weathered the storm better than other sectors in the space. Business PC refreshes, in particular, have suffered of late.
But amid the gloom, as well as in pre-recessionary times, there has been a fairly steady stream of established Asian manufacturers looking to capture a share of our market.
BenQ re-stoked the coals last year with its Joybook, preceded in 2006 by LG, and NEC in 2007. Samsung, meanwhile, has re-launched notebooks across the Tasman and is considering doing the same here.
Another recent entrant to expand its range here is Viewsonic, which is offering all-in-one PCs because of its strength in monitor-based products.
Offerings by the most recent entrant, MSI, show that particular form factors are in demand. It is emphasising netbooks and an ultraslim model similar to the MacBook Air.
Globally, companies more commonly associated with phones (such as LG, Nokia and Samsung) are branching into the notebook space and this is a sign of the times. Features that can be found in phones – for example, the touch screen of the iPhone and copycat devices – are now increasingly offered in portable PCs.
For these and other firms, notebooks now offer a chance to differentiate with the sort of functionality and design not historically offered with these products.
As the netbook category matures, specifications are increasingly high end. They’re smaller and faster, and some models are now made of materials that make them look better than they’ve ever done.
Integrated broadband modules are on their way to becoming ubiquitous across notebook brands here, as we start to catch up to the rest of the world in speed and value for data.
Telco/IT convergence and the use of notebooks for high-speed mobile data is a trend that will see increasing partnerships between Telecom and PC manufacturers for XT, as it begins to cover the ground Vodafone already has by virtue of being GSM-centric.
But one of the biggest drivers of new notebook buying will surely be Windows 7, as is the case when consumers look for machines with the new operating system pre-loaded. Vista prompted higher PC sales, but this time the rapid advance of the netbook category has meant Microsoft needed to ensure the OS could run on these types of lower specked machines.
So while the notebook market is a crowded and competitive space, and will become even more so, those who employ sensible strategies will find success. This will entail differentiation, an emphasis on new features and tapping into customer preferences.