Massive success enjoyed by Asus in the SOHO notebook market is forcing larger competitors to focus on bridging the gap between small business and consumer models.
According to IDC figures, the Taiwanese vendor has almost doubled its notebook market share within 12 months, growing from 4.2 per cent in Q1 2006 to 8.1 per cent in the same period of this year. It was fifth on the vendor tally behind HP (21.4 per cent), Toshiba (18.8 per cent) and Dell. It has passed Lenovo (7.6 per cent) and Apple (6.4 per cent).
IDC's PC analyst, Liam Gunson, said Asus had carved a sweet spot for notebooks valued at $1400-$2000 that was forcing many tier-one vendors to test new features and configurations in an attempt to win over prosumer, SOHO and small business markets.
"The prosumer term is an interesting one," he said. "It's hard to know whether people are buying a laptop for specifications that are consumer and work-oriented, or if they're SMBs buying laptops through retail because they get a good price as well as credit facilities. Vendors will continue to take different configurations to market in order to see which areas bite."
Dicker Data sales manager, Chris Price, said the number of 'prosumers' buying a single notebook for work and play was on the rise. But he claimed a gap had emerged between the products offered to commercial resellers and those sold in consumer markets, which was seeing traditional IT resellers lose out as more users sourced product from retailers.
"Prosumers are looking for retail features, such as Web cams or dedicated video cards, as well as business elements such as security and quality," Price said. "The problem is that a lot of resellers don't have both [feature sets] in their notebook range."
This product gap in the ranges of larger vendors had left the door open for Asus to snatch market share, Price said, because a lack of retail issues and corporate business gave it free range in the SOHO and small business space.
Toshiba information systems division general manager, Mark Whittard, also put the recent success of Asus down to its ability to offer healthier margins through distribution.
"However, long-term sustainability questions will rise as they grow. Being a new entrant to this market, they have to offer something better to attract people," he said. "Once they get into the big retailers, they will struggle."
Recognising the crossover between consumer and SOHO, HP recently opened the Presario range up to all of its distributors. Previously, a limited Presario range was available to resellers through Ingram Micro and Dicker Data. Market development manager for consumer notebooks, Nicholas Lynch, said the line between work and play was blurring, with as many as 30 per cent of all notebooks sold in the consumer space going into SOHO. By offering a greater choice to the market, it was providing resellers with a more comprehensive suite of products to offer SOHOs, he said.
However, Toshiba's Whittard downplayed the prosumer concept and denied the need for a crossover strategy.
"People come up with great names for different market segments but I think it's more about what features a user needs - whether it's for work, home, or entertainment - and what services and accessories they require," he said.
"I don't see a gap at all. What we have is choice. It used to be that we had differing brands for different markets, but the lines have blurred. We have features across both now. We try and help resellers differentiate by offering a choice of different lines. The next stage is to custom build, which we have already started locally."
Lenovo director of transaction notebooks, Matt Codrington, said the notebook usage model had changed significantly in the past couple of years. Earlier this year, the vendor introduced its 3000 family of notebooks and desktop PCs specifically targeting the SMB market. These included Lenovo Care tools, security and some connectivity options.