Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Holiday Sales Didn't Help Microsoft

First appeared in NY Times
Weak sales of personal computers made for a tough holiday selling season for Microsoft.

The results, released Thursday after the markets closed, are a sign of the challenges that Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash., faces as it tries to adapt to deep changes in the technology industry. While Microsoft continues to reap profits from products like Windows and Office, growth is shifting away from the personal computer industry on which those two software franchises rest toward mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.

The company said net income in its second quarter, which ended Dec. 31, declined slightly to $6.62 billion, or 78 cents a share, from $6.63 billion in the year-earlier period. The company said revenue was up 5 percent at $20.89 billion.

The earnings exceeded the expectations of Wall Street analysts, who had predicted 76 cents a share, though Microsoft fell short of their revenue forecast of $20.93 billion, according to a survey of analysts by Thomson Reuters.

The PC market is looking increasingly shaky. Microsoft said revenue from Windows, one of the pillars of its profits, fell 6 percent, to $4.74 billion, in the quarter.

Brendan Barnicle, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, said that most analysts had braced for poor Windows sales but that the actual numbers were worse than most had expected.

“We were negative 4 percent, and they still missed,” he said.

In an interview, Microsoft’s chief financial officer, Peter S. Klein, said the decline in Windows sales was the result of problems in the consumer market, not purchases of PCs by businesses, which continued to grow during the quarter. He said the sales of the inexpensive laptops known as netbooks were especially bad, falling to 2 percent of worldwide consumer PC shipments in the quarter, from 8 percent a year earlier.

Worldwide shipments of PCs fell 0.2 percent during the fourth quarter from the year-earlier period, while PC shipments in the United States fell 5 percent for all of 2011, the worst showing since 2001, according to the International Data Corporation. IDC attributed the anemic results to weak economic conditions and shortages of hard disks caused by flooding in Thailand, a manufacturing center for those devices.

The weakness in Microsoft’s report also reflects competition from cellphones and tablets like Apple’s iPad.
After stumbling in mobile phones and tablets in recent years, Microsoft finally has software products for these devices that are winning positive early reviews. But Microsoft’s tablet and cellphone plans have not yet begun to produce big sales.

The company released its redesigned mobile operating system, Windows Phone, in fall 2010, but the first smartphones that used the software were lackluster and had tepid support from wireless carriers. Microsoft is betting that a partnership with Nokia, the Finnish cellphone maker, will help turn around its mobile business. The first devices from their collaboration went on sale only recently.

Meanwhile, Apple’s iPhone and smartphones based on Google’s Android operating system are devouring most of the market. During the fourth quarter, Android phones accounted for 51.7 percent of the smartphones acquired by United States consumers within three months, while the iPhone accounted for 37 percent, according to estimates by Nielsen. Phones running Microsoft software, including an older operating system it is no longer developing, accounted for 3.8 percent, Nielsen said.

Microsoft is also developing a new version of its flagship operating system, Windows 8, to run tablet computers. Early test versions of the software have been praised by developers and technophiles. The software is not expected to go on sale until late this year, though.

Other parts of Microsoft’s business are performing well, especially its entertainment and devices division, dominated by sales of the Xbox video game system and related products. Revenue from that division grew 15 percent to $4.24 billion from the year-earlier period, reflecting strong sales of the Xbox 360 console, the Kinect game sensor and the Xbox Live online game service.

Another standout was Microsoft’s server and tools division, which sells databases and other software to businesses. That division’s sales rose 11 percent, to $4.77 billion.

Do Employees Own Their Ideas?

First appeared in NY Times
This interview with Katherine Hays, chief executive of GenArts, a visual effects technology company.

Q. When was the first time you were somebody’s boss?

A. The first time I had a real leadership position was at Massive, a video-game advertising company that I co-founded. We started that from an idea, and built it into a company with international offices before selling it to Microsoft. You wear every hat at the beginning, and then you gradually hire a team and you begin handing off some of those specific hats. A Wash DC Intellectual Property Lawyer is curious about the progression.

Q. Was that a natural transition for you into a leadership position?

A. I would say some things were natural, and others were not. One of the core things that is important to leadership is passion for the vision. I’m not sure I could sell anything I didn’t believe in. And honesty and fairness are also key. Someone was doing a reference check on me at some point a few years back, and people said that I’m extremely honest and fair, and that was one of the greatest compliments somebody could give me, because those are really core to being a great leader.

Q. What else have you learned about leadership?

A. It’s important to keep things in context, whether it’s good news or bad news. Either can be very distracting to the team. I’m pretty good at keeping those in context and focusing on the task at hand. Some of the boards I’ve worked with are really good at that as well. They just don’t overreact, no matter what the news is. A Boston Intellectual Property Lawyer agrees.
Those things came naturally to me. That being said, I think being a great leader is like being a great athlete. You can start with some natural abilities, but what a shame if you’re not continuing to build on them very deliberately, and continuing to kind of push yourself out of your comfort zone, trying to understand what you’re missing, and what you can learn from other people.

Q. Any other lessons?

A. Being very good at hiring people is key. And I would say I made two mistakes in hiring. Both times they had all the right answers to the questions, amazing backgrounds, really strong résumés, but my gut just said, hmm, this doesn’t feel right. And I didn’t listen to myself, and I hired them, and it was a mistake. I couldn’t articulate what it was that didn’t feel right, which is why I think I convinced myself to hire them. But something felt less than genuine about them.
So the lesson there was, at the end of the day, even if everything seems to check out, you listen to your gut. And I’ve given that guidance to a lot of my team. If they come in and they say, “You know, something doesn’t feel right,” I say, “Don’t hire them.” Far better to pass on someone than to bring the wrong person into the team.

Q. What about lessons when you were younger?

A. I learned as an athlete — I rowed for four years in college — that you have to be present in the moment, and you can’t be distracted by something you just did that was really good, or by the fact that you’re a little bit behind in a race. You can’t focus on what’s just happened because you can’t change it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pause and congratulate ourselves, but you have to balance that with maintaining focus on what the next steps are. You learn as an athlete to say: “Great, we won that race, but what are the things we could have done better? Because we have a race next week.” A Wash DC Intellectual Property Lawyer is ready to help.

Q. What about your parents? What kind of influence did they have?

A. Both my parents started their own businesses and built them from scratch. My father runs a pest control company, and my mom bought apartments, restored them and sold them. So a lot of our discussions around the dinner table were about solving business problems. It was just something that seemed very natural to me. It wasn’t just a job for them — they were building something that they were excited about.

Q. What are some specific business lessons you learned from your parents?

A. Probably the biggest thing I learned from my father was to focus on the customer. Talk to the customer, and if you ask them in the right way and you really listen, you will find out what you need to be successful in your business. They can give you a huge amount of guidance in pointing you to the right answer, and helping you realize something that you might have been missing. In his business, he realized that it wasn’t just about controlling the bugs. It was really about happy residents. You’re going into their apartment or home, and they wanted a technician who had a tucked-in monogrammed shirt, and a reminder the day before that they were going to be there. All of those elements were actually more important, or certainly as important, as the pest control itself. And that allowed him to build a business that has sent all of his kids to Ivy League colleges. A Frankfurt Intellectual Property Lawyer mentions similar things.

Q. Other mentors?

A. One of the next leadership lessons I learned was from the person I worked for at Goldman Sachs. I went there right out of undergrad to work in equity research, and he really taught me to think about the ultimate outcome you want. This is one of the interview questions that I ask people. Where do you ultimately want to be? Envision the ideal in five years or 10 years, and then work back to what that means in terms of what you’re doing right now. It gives me a good window into how they think.
This approach applies in a business context, as well. You’re negotiating a deal with a key partner. What would be ideal? And often people don’t think through negotiations that way. But when you do, then you can back into an agreement by simplifying what your priorities are as part of the negotiation.

Q. What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned more recently?

A. I’d say I’m learning more about being quiet, stepping back and having my team really direct more of it. And to help them think about things as owners. I joke with them that what I think doesn’t matter. But to some extent it doesn’t. If I like the logo, for example, but the logo’s not accomplishing the outcome we want, then it’s kind of irrelevant what I think. Because if it doesn’t work with customers, we’ve lost. If you’re an owner, you’re fine with being wrong if someone’s helping you get to a better answer. And you’re just focused on that outcome — what’s going to make us a better company?

Q. Talk more about the culture you’re trying to create.

A. I think it comes back to the ownership thing. If you’re really the owner of a piece of work, you’re actually excited about the feedback because it’s going to help you improve what you’re doing. I think you have to have a culture where being wrong is O.K. — at least during the process — so that people can say, O.K., I got this piece wrong, but now I’ve corrected it and we’re moving forward to a better answer.
And then I think it also goes back to hiring. You want to hire people who are really strong at what they do, and very confident — not overly confident, but I’ve found that the more talented people are, the more comfortable they are if they find out they are wrong. They have a lot more humility. So they’re much more receptive to correcting things when someone else points out a way to improve. Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Lawyer advocates agree.

Q. You’ve talked about wanting to hire people who think like owners. How do you get at that in an interview?

A. I might ask about experiences that you had where you really owned the outcome. And how did you think about what would happen if it failed, and how did you define success? How did you get buy-in from others for that? To me that would demonstrate that you had an idea, and you kind of went out on a limb and it was going to be yours if it was a home run, and it was going to be yours if it was a flop, and you were comfortable with that. That’s the kind of person you want — someone who really is ready to be an owner, even if it doesn’t always mean success. A Wash DC Intellectual Property Lawyer likes this idea.

Q. But they’re not actually owners of the company, so can you explain this distinction a bit more for me about the mind-set you’re looking for?

A. You want people who are more interested in the outcome, not the process. So you might have done all the right tasks, but if they didn’t get you to the right outcome, it’s kind of irrelevant. Usually people who’ve started something themselves or started a project within a bigger company themselves have to be really outcome-focused versus task-focused.

And they talk more about the outcome in an interview. They’ll say, “Here are the outcomes I was looking for, so I tried this and it didn’t work, so then I tried these other two things and those didn’t work, and finally I went down this path and that was the successful one.” There are usually a lot of roadblocks before you hit the right one. A Salt Lake City Intellectual Property Lawyer can answer similar questions.

People sometimes ask me for advice about being an entrepreneur. Typically, I say you need to feel really comfortable with your vision, because if you’re onto something and you’re onto something innovative, no one else is going to see it for a long time. So do your homework. Make sure it’s the right opportunity. But for a long time, people you try to raise money from, your first partners, your first customers, your first hires, they’re not necessarily going to see the vision, so you have to really believe in the vision.

And you have to get very comfortable about hearing the word “no.” You’ll hear “no” so often it starts to have the emotional impact of “hello.” But you have to not let that stop you. You have to ask people: “How can we make this work? What could help us get to a yes?”

"Lane-Keeping Technology"

First appeared in NY Times
A DRIVERLESS car is not yet ready for the market. But in the meantime, automakers are continuing to market some components of one. The Ford Motor Company announced last month that it would offer “lane-keeping technology” as an option for its 2013 Ford Fusion and Ford Explorer. The price has not yet been set.

When lane-keeping technology works, it can save lives. But it is suited only for certain road conditions, and there are reasons to doubt that it will activate as consistently as it should.

Ford’s technology relies on a camera mounted to the rear-view mirror. When the system is switched on and the vehicle is traveling more than 40 miles per hour, it will use the road’s lane markings to sense veering near one edge of the lane or the other. If the turn signal is off, the system will assume that the drift is unintentional and will send a vibration to the steering wheel as a warning.

If the driver doesn’t correct the drift, the software is then supposed to engage the power steering and turn the car back toward the center of the lane.

When all goes well, this will be flat-out wonderful. But the camera may have difficulty detecting the lane markings — when the sun is at a low angle, for example, or during heavy rainfall or on curves. If it fails to see the markings, it simply remains dormant.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has declined to give lane-keeping technology its blessing. Ronald Medford, deputy administrator of the agency, says, “We believe additional evaluation and research about lane-keeping systems is needed before we can decide whether we should recommend it to the public.”

Earlier research by the highway agency found performance problems in other systems then available. When asked about that, Michael Kane, a development engineer at Ford, acknowledges that certain conditions, such as when driving into direct sunlight, confound the system. “It’s not perfect,” he says.

But, he continues, “we’ve worked to enable the system to detect lane markings on a much higher percentage of situations, such as tree-lined curves with lots of shadows.”

When Toyota introduced similar technology in its 2010 Prius, it chose to call it “Lane Keep Assist.” Lexus and Mercedes also use similar language for their systems. That “assist” keeps expectations from getting out of hand. Ford is going instead with “Lane Keeping System,” without any namby-pamby qualifier.

Advanced automotive safety technologies, like lane-keeping systems, are most prevalent in Europe, says Eddy Llaneras, a staff member of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

“In Europe, the driving population understands that ultimate responsibility remains with the driver,” he says. “Here in the U.S., we are inclined to believe the technology will do all the work for us. And if it doesn’t, we’ll sue.”

Mr. Llaneras expects that within five to 10 years we will see “lane centering,” in which the vehicle steers itself. “The technology exists today — it’s been tested on research vehicles,” he says. “But manufacturers hesitate to introduce it because the systems can never be 100 percent reliable and they introduce liability exposure.”

Mercedes makes its lane-keeping system active by default, but Ford, like Toyota and Lexus, insists that its system be turned on manually, every time; the driver doesn’t have the option to designate that it be activated by default, or when cruise control is used — a seemingly natural combination.

Ford’s new technology package also includes what it calls a “Driver Alert System,” which will provide warnings when the software detects a pattern of driving associated with drowsiness, such as weaving within the lane boundaries. For the first warning, Ford’s designers have chosen to sound a soft chime and to display this message on the dashboard: “Rest suggested.” If the problem persists, a louder chime and a new message — “Rest now” — follow.

Mr. Kane could not point to any test data, however, that suggests that a driver who is sleepy to the point of being dangerous is likely to find and heed display warnings. Notwithstanding the chimes, delivering the message with an insistent recorded voice would seem a better choice.

J. Christian Gerdes, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford and an associate professor of mechanical engineering, has been testing driverless cars since the early 1990s. One such vehicle successfully climbed the twisty road to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado — and did so multiple times. Its technology, however, isn’t coming soon to an auto showroom near you: its navigation relies on a base station in the area to transmit a Differential Global Positioning System signal.

Even if camera-based lane-keeping systems were to work well, we might not end up safer. Mr. Gerdes calls attention to the “risk accommodation” problem. “As vehicles are made safer, drivers may compensate by engaging in riskier behavior,” he explains.

As humans, we have one thing that works in our favor while driving: we are more likely to handle unexpected events successfully than the software in an autonomous car.

“Humans understand context,” Mr. Gerdes says. “If I’m driving along a row of parked cars and a ball rolls out into the street, I know to look for a child.”

Then again, we humans aren’t always exemplary in paying attention to the road. Ford’s system may lack perfect vision, but it will never be distracted because it’s checking its e-mail.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Suicidal Xbox Makers

First appeared in the Boston Globe
Dozens of workers assembling Xbox video game consoles climbed to a factory dormitory roof, and some threatened to jump to their deaths, in a dispute over job transfers that was defused but highlights growing labor unrest as China’s economy slows.

The dispute was set off after contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group announced it would close the assembly line for Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 models at its plant in the central city of Wuhan and transfer the workers to other jobs, workers and Foxconn said Thursday.

Workers reached by telephone said Foxconn initially offered severance pay for those who wanted to leave rather than be transferred, but then reneged, angering the workers; Foxconn, in a statement, disputed that account, saying only transfers were offered, not severance.

The workers climbed to the top of the six-story dormitory on Jan. 3 and threatened to jump before Wuhan city officials persuaded them to desist and return to work, according to the workers and accounts online. The workers gave varying estimates of the numbers involved in the strike, from 80 to 200, and photos posted online showed dozens of people crowding the roof of the boxy concrete building.

“Actually none of them were going to jump. They were there for the compensation. But the government and the company officials were just as afraid, because if even one of them jumped, the consequences would be hard to imagine,’’ said Wang Jungang, an equipment engineer in the Xbox production line, who left the plant earlier this month.

The fracas is the latest labor trouble to hit Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. that makes iPads and iPhones for Apple Inc. as well as Xboxes and other gadgets, helping consumer electronics brands hold down costs. Its massive China plants are run with military-like discipline, which labor rights activists say contributed to spate of suicides in 2010.

Foxconn said that all workers on the Xbox line were offered transfers at their current pay but that 150 demanded severance and not all of them participated in the rooftop protest. “It is our understanding that certain individuals threatened to jump from the building if their demands were not met,’’ the statement said.

Strikes and other job actions have risen in recent months across China as factories cope with rising costs, scarce credit and declining orders from Europe, the United States and domestic companies. Complicating matters is the approaching Lunar New Year, a time when many of the migrant workers who man factories quit jobs to return home temporarily before looking for better paying employment.

Foxconn’s Wuhan plant employs 32,000 people. The site previously had a couple of suicides or attempted ones a couple years back, prompting the government to take over the operations of the dormitories, said Wang, the equipment engineer.

After the rooftop protest, Microsoft said in a statement that it investigated, finding that the dispute centered on Foxconn’s staffing and transfer policies, not working conditions. “After the protest, the majority of workers chose to return to work. A smaller portion of those employees elected to resign, the statement said.

Ultimately, Foxconn said, 45 of the employees resigned from the company while the rest chose to stay. It did not say whether the resigning workers were given compensation. Wang, the engineer, said he received $4,700 (30,000 yuan) in compensation but that was because he planned his departure early, telling his supervisor six months ago he would leave.ionals, our award-winning solutions include custom displays, exhibit rentals, trade show graphics, shipping, installation and exhibit storage.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Microsoft Is Coming Back

First appeared on CNN Money
Perhaps it's time for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to develop a new monkey boy dance?

Ballmer is set to take the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Monday night (for the last time) and he's likely to rave about Microsoft's Xbox and Kinect gaming devices and its upcoming Windows Phone with partner Nokia (NOK).

Cue the Gloria Estefan? (If you haven't seen Ballmer's famous 2001 pep rally speech to developers, please do yourself a favor and click here. It's an amusing 75 seconds.)

Ballmer may finally have plenty of reasons to repeatedly jump up and down again.

While Microsoft's stock has been stuck in the tech version of No Man's Land between value and growth for about a decade, investors have taken a liking to Mister Softee so far in 2012.

Shares of Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) shot up more than 8% last week. The stock is now less than 5% below its 52-week high of $29.46. If the momentum keeps building, it's possible that Microsoft can finally surpass the $30 level that it's flirted with for the past few years but can't seem to crack.

Microsoft still may appeal more to the value crowd than investors craving sexy growth. The stock trades for only about 10 times earnings estimates for this fiscal year -- which ends in July. And earnings per share are only expected to rise 2% this year and 11% in fiscal 2013.

Awesome, unreleased gadgets of CES

There's also that pretty big dividend. Microsoft yields 2.8%, nearly a percentage point higher than a 10-year Treasury if you're keeping score at home.

With $57 billion in cash, Microsoft could easily afford to keep boosting its payout for the foreseeable future.
"The stock is just too cheap and you have the dividend," said Gary Bradshaw, manager of the Hodges Equity Income (HDPEX) fund in Dallas. "It's been a dismal performer but Microsoft has grown earnings over the past few years and there's probably little downside.

The fact that Microsoft has been so unloved for so long could also mean that it may not take much for the stock to move significantly higher. Investors have grown accustomed to new product releases underwhelming the market. A big hit could go a long way.

"People say it's a PC stock and PCs are dead. You can't argue with that," Bradshaw said. "But there's still a lot of growth in emerging markets. And Windows Phone and Windows 8 are coming down the pike. It's got the potential to be a growth stock again."

There is, dare I say it, growing excitement about Windows 8, Microsoft's next operating system. That is currently scheduled to debut sometime later this year.

If early reviews of beta versions of Windows 8 for developers are to be believed, Microsoft may finally have some software that can help it in the rapidly growing tablet market. Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPad and the many devices running on Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) Android are early leaders in tablets.

The new four horsemen of tech

But hopes are high for Microsoft's tablet-ready Windows. That's because Microsoft has finally agreed to move beyond its heavy reliance on processor leader Intel (INTC, Fortune 500) and also embrace chips designed by ARM Holdings (ARMH), the U.K. company often referred to as the Intel of mobile semiconductors.

"Yes, it's an old stodgy technology company compared to others but you have plenty of exposure to growth areas like mobile, search cloud and gaming with Microsoft," said Ted Parrish, co-manager or the Henssler Equity Fund (HEQFX) in Kennesaw, Ga. "Rumors of Microsoft's demise are always greatly exaggerated."

Parrish owns the stock in his fund and said that he's hopeful Windows 8 will be as successful as Windows 95 was for Microsoft. That may be tough given the increased competition from Apple and others.

But Parrish owns Apple too. So he is hedging his bets in tech ... which is a pretty smart move for anyone looking to invest in a sector that can often be as unpredictable as Ballmer's dance moves.

Best of StockTwits: Alcoa (AA, Fortune 500) kicks off the earnings parade Monday but there's little excitement. And Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY, Fortune 500) is buying hepatitis C drug developer Inhibitex (INHX) for a huge premium. That's got biotech investors thrilled.

bradloncar: I've never seen a company post decent earnings just a week after announcing a restructuring. Don't expect $AA to be the first today.

Agreed. In fact, I think earnings overall won't be as strong as many hope. For more about that, check out this column I did last week.

Cash_Cow: $BMY buyout of $INHX will get the funds buying up small cap pharmaceuticals trading at dead lows like $ANX $ARNA $HGSI $ABIO $SQNM $POZN

Investors need to be careful. There could be a feeding frenzy in biotech. (See next tweet) But many small cap drug companies are unprofitable and risky. Hence, they deserve to be trading at their lows.

EXPstocktrader: Roche is probably pissed that $BMY has stepped on a deal that they intended to Buy IMO and we may have a horse race here soon.

The BMY deal, combined with last year's purchase of Pharmasset (VRUS) by Gilead Sciences (GILD, Fortune 500), could mean that Big Pharma will try and buy up the other companies working on hep C treatments. Achillion (ACHN) and Idenix (IDIX) both surged Monday.

jfahmy: Movies, Drugs, and iPads are all up this morning...What else do you need really?

Coffee? Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500) and Dunkin' Brands (DNKN) are both down though. Oh well.

Friday, January 6, 2012

PC Makes Waves with Ultrabooks

Story first appeared on WIRED
At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you couldn’t throw your schwag bag across the show floor without hitting a 3-D television or Android tablet. This year’s hottest gadget? It looks like it will be the ultrabook.

Super thin and remarkably light, ultrabooks are expected from all the major PC manufacturers. Tablets aren’t going away by any means, but you can expect CES 2012 to be dominated by this emerging notebook category that’s being heavily pushed by Intel.

Intel, in fact, coined and trademarked ultrabook as a marketing term, using it to differentiate high-performance, ultra-portable, Intel-based notebooks from more mainstream, bottom-feeding notebooks and tablets. Apple proved to the world that this product category has legs via the success of its MacBook Air, and now Intel (and its partners) want a piece of the action too.

Intel says that to qualify as an ultrabook, a notebook must meet stringent criteria: It must weigh no more than 3.1 lbs, be no more than 0.71 inches thick, and provide five-plus hours of battery life. Even more germane to the consumer experience, it must boast flash-based storage, and incorporate Intel’s Rapid Start Technology for speedy boot times.

At CES 2012, you can expect to see 30 to 50 ultrabook models from Dell, HP, Toshiba, Acer, Asus and Lenovo, a few of which already have ultrabooks in their arsenals of shipping products. Most of next year’s ultrabooks will be in the $1,000 to $1,200 price range, and that’s a problem, according to Display Search analyst Richard Shim, who says these devices need to be priced around $699 to appeal to mainstream consumers.

“The challenge is that you’re trying to make a premium product mainstream,” Shim says. “It’s sort of an oxymoron, because as soon as it’s mainstream, it’s not premium anymore.”

Forrester analyst David Johnson says, “Apple has proven that people will pay a premium for style, but only time will tell if that magic can be applied to ultrabooks intended for Windows.”

Although ultrabooks are a response to consumer demand for more tablet-like computing experiences, they won’t be displacing the tablet at CES 2012. “I think ultrabooks and tablets will share dual billing,” Shim says of this year’s CES. “They offer kind of the same experience, so ultrabooks might be the headliner, but tablets are the next act.”

Forrester analyst David Johnson adds, “While the ultrabooks are thin, light and offer instant-on convenience, the tablet will still have a place in the computer bag for reading, reviewing documents, and informal discussions or presentations.”

As far as specs and features announced at next week’s CES, don’t expect any huge changes from the ultrabooks we’ve already seen. Your average ultrabook will have a 14-inch screen, Intel Core i5 processor, and between 128GB and 256GB of SSD storage.

“At this stage, it’s still hardware design and price competition. Who can get thinner, lighter,” Shim says. So, while we probably won’t see any one-pound ultrabooks this year, there are other ways an ultrabook might distinguish itself from the competition.

Manufacturers could use more “exotic case materials and innovative designs,” Johnson says. Samsung’s Series 9, for example, is made of Duralumin alloy, a material that is also used in aircraft manufacture. Battery life, display quality and screen resolution are other areas that ultrabook makers can capitalize on.

Johnson hopes to see a few models built to AMD’s “Ultrathin” standards, potentially based on the company’s new Brazos platform and Radeon HD 7000 graphics. Though, of course, lacking Intel silicon, these models won’t really be dictionary-definition ultrabooks.

“Ultimately, the real value will be when you complement that with software, and Windows 8 will help with that,” Shim says.

Windows 8 won’t be shipping until mid-2012 at the earliest. This means ultrabooks won’t really begin to shine until later this year and early next year — we’re just in the “build-up phase” right now, Shim says.

Johnson says Intel’s 22nm Ivy Bridge processors will drive a new crop of Ultrabooks towards the middle of 2012. We could also see “retina”-quality displays up to 2880×1800 resolution arriving toward the end of the year. Other updates to expect: higher-capacity Lithium-Polymer batteries and ever larger SSD capacities becoming available as new models are released.

What about desktops and high-performance notebooks in 2012?

“There will always be a segment of the audience looking for higher performance systems,” Shim says. “Just like with cars, there’s guys looking for muscle machines and hot rods.”