PC trends 2007

Posted by Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

Starting in June of every year, the PC landscape begins to get more exciting as vendors are releasing their new PC lines in that time frame.   We have had a long dry run, largely because of the gap between the time that was needed to sync the lines in process with Windows Vista and the hardware that will make it sing.  

We had three early products pointing the way to the future - the two Touchsmart machines from HP and the hot Toshiba R400 laptop blazed the way. But they lacked the coming features like 802.11n support, Robson (Intel’s flash cache now called “Turbo Memory”), hybrid-hard drives, and the tuned hardware from AMD, Intel and Nvidia.  

Let’s take a look at the major vendors and speculate a little about what is coming.

 

Apple

One of the most closely watched will be Apple, because they were gated by Leopard (and not Vista) and could choose when both would be available. Apple is expected to launch an impressive refresh of its hardware that is now properly tuned for Leopard and will better integrate with Microsoft.   They have had serious problems getting Leopard out the door though so timing is up in the air with a likely launch between late August and October.  The Microsoft integration is mostly important for businesses, but could provide benefits for Apple users who wanted to play Windows games (or run other Windows software) and were frustrated with the Tiger solutions.   

If the iPod Nano and iPhone are signs of things to come expect more use of metals in case structure and the possibility of more color choices. Like their Windows based competitors, they should be able to slim their machines down a bit and, given the Apple interface, touch screens are a real possibility for some products.  

Apple is in the Blu-ray camp and I would expect at least one high end product to have a drive or drive option if only for archival purposes. (When it comes to Blu-ray support, Apple has been extremely quiet of late).   Expect them to be aggressive with quad-core products in the desktop segments (they’ll continue to push the new Intel parts hard) and finish the Apple TV solution with a stronger PC side (which is held up pending Leopard). This concept may give you a taste of what is to come.  

I think, given Apple’s interest in flash, the very real possibility that we will see the first mainstream lines from them that boot out of flash providing a significant improvement in boot and OS related performance metrics.  With the improvements in power and heat management, these machines will run cooler (to the touch) and be higher performing by a significant margin than the machines that we have today.  

Monitors and the iMac are also due for a refresh, but with the Leopard delay, when they will do this is likely up in the air there. It is interesting they are blaming the Leopard delay on the iPhone.   I’ll bet the iPhone gets blamed for a lot of things before the year is done.   Maybe that’s the surprise new iPhone feature!   It’s also a Blame Magnet!!  I’m thinking that may not be a good sign…

Dell

Dell has tripled their design resources and is making a hard run at the consumer market. By the end of August, they should have their own new lines out and they are expected to be vastly more attractive.  In their case look to their stunning 27” monitor for design elements in platinum and glossy black.  

Expected to be edgy, tuned for Vista which will be performing much better at that time, and sporting a wider variety of Blu-ray options these machines are supposed to put Dell on the map with regard to industrial design.

Look for systems using Robson, large capacity hybrid drives to improve general performance and capacity, and the first machines using Displayport are likely to come from Dell.  

Gateway

Gateway was first out of the gate this week with a large refresh of their eMachines lines sporting a new look and even more aggressive price points.  A little known secret is that one of the best values in the market are the Gateway and eMachines AMD Sempron based mobile systems because they are basically Turion systems with more power efficient (longer battery life) processors. The eMachines products typically only show up as specials from time to time at places like Wal-Mart (and aren’t on the market now) but are great buys. Look for them around August (back to school) and October (Holidays).  

Gateway has been a force with monitors and look for them to push the envelope there with larger and more attractive products which have built in features, like scalers, that they have made famous in their 22” and 24” flagship offerings in the second half.   They are very proud of these monitors expect something in the 27/30” range with a sexy new industrial design.
 
Their premium line of notebooks, branded Gateway, is splitting into a consumer and professional segments.  Expect a sharp improvement in the appearance of these products and a rich feature set. On the gaming side with their FX systems they are expected to push the envelope with regard to what you can get at an affordable price. If you remember that they were one of the first to provide over-clocking as a standard feature on high end Intel machines you’ll realize how far they are likely to push performance in the second half. They appear to be ramping hard and I’m expecting them to improve significantly by the end of the year.    

HP

HP will likely be the most dramatic. They have teased about the launch of a new premium line and some products out of their Voodoo unit that are revolutionary in nature. The new premium line will have a unique look and feel, rich without being gaudy, mature but with a gamer’s edge. This will be their affordable showcase and each will be a technology showcase of features and options. Expect both Blu-ray and HD-DVD options for these products as well as unique options for customization and personalization. This line has Apple in its sight and HP is taking no prisoners. 

The Voodoo line, which is now their super-premium offering, is supposed to get the equivalent of Area 51 technology out of the labs. I’m expecting some amazing things with active cooling, light and even sound.   Voodoo will be where you will see technology that is a year or more ahead of everything else over time and this will be our first opportunity to see that.  

The HP and Compaq lines have already been undergoing change. The Touchsmart PCs were the first indicators of what is come in the HP line and Compaq has already gone through its branding and logo changes.  You’ll see the HP line get flash capability and other Vista oriented tech, while the Compaq line will run against eMachines with an edgy design elements and the message of applied simplicity and value.  

The sheer number of lines should be impressive, but they are also expected to have a refresh for their cameras, printers, and smart phones so this will be one busy company.


Toshiba

With the R400 we saw the beginning of a change with the Toshiba design language and we should see more of that as their lines are refreshed mid-year.  Toshiba is aggressive with performance technology particularly targeted at battery life so expect heavy use of flash technology throughout most of their lines and a much more edgy, R400, look to a number of products.
 
Toshiba is laptop only and works the weight and technology metrics hard.  Expect to see one or two laptops from them that are both uncompromising and light.  While they don’t have the performance edge of say a Voodoo, XPS, or Alienware but they have been building game capable machines that are lighter than these gaming firms typically field, which means you are more likely to carry them.  Expect to see them push that with the refresh.

They also tend to be more advanced with wireless technology and, to date, have the only wireless docking capability in a laptop.  Expect that to be more widely used as well.   


Apple vs. the Windows PC Vendors

This will probably be the most interesting dynamic because, in the second half, if they can finish Leopard, Apple is expected to have the strongest line they have fielded in decades. But so are most of the PC vendors and HP, in particular, is chasing Apple (and using a lot of ex-Apple employees to do it).

The holiday season will be a fight to remember but not without cost. These folks will be chasing your dollars so hard that its best to keep one hand on your pocket at all times.   
We could use a little more excitement in the PC space, in a few months we clearly will get it, if you love PCs, Apple or Windows, you should like the ride even though your wallet will likely be screaming for mercy.  

 

Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts.  Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them.  Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.