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Compute Sticks: Good PC Things in Small Packages

If there's a 'new-rule' the consumer electronics and PC industry learned from the successful rise of low-cost Chromebooks in the global marketplace, it's that less product capabilities can equate to significant new upside market opportunity.

With the recent introduction of the compute stick form-factor -- such as ASUS Chromebit, Intel Compute Stick, and Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300 -- key players in the PC sector have uncovered yet another gap in which existing devices are sub-optimal for specific use cases.

According to the latest worldwide market study by ABI Research, compute stick shipments are forecast to top 5 million units by 2021. Truly, this would be a meaningful accomplishment, when you consider the other potential growth alternatives.

"With 2015 concluding compute stick's first full year of shipments, we anticipate the devices to show an impressive CAGR of 49 percent between 2015 and 2021 as the ecosystem continues to grow," said Jeff Orr, research director at ABI Research.

New Strategy for PC Market Development 

According to the ABI assessment, the early compute stick vendor leaders are likely to be Intel and Microsoft. Potentially, new opportunities for compute sticks could lead to the re-birth of the longstanding codependency relationship between these two companies.

With the growth of legacy laptop and notebook PC shipments under-performing for several years, plus ultra-portable 2-in-1 systems trending toward higher price points and ARM-powered tablets dominating, both Intel and Microsoft are seeking a product category that would backfill their losses in the traditional PC space.

Moreover, rather than continuing to rely upon their status-quo computer design models, both companies recently retooled their development teams to strategically uncover where new compute experiences will occur.

How Compute Sticks Offer Renewed Hope

Staying ahead of the curve, ABI says that Intel has focused on refining its Atom SoC processor platforms, while Microsoft has reinvented itself with the launch of Windows 10 -- and reached the realization that it is no longer the only leading PC operating system (OS) player.

"For the compute stick opportunity to scale, significant growth is needed in relationships, manufacturing agreements, and regionalization of lead market use cases,” concludes Sam Rosen, vice president at ABI Research.

For example, from a consumer standpoint, the compute stick market provides more functionality but less purpose-built entertainment experience in comparison to streaming media adapters, such as the Google Chromecast.

While there are an abundance of situations spanning both consumer and enterprise markets in which compute sticks would add great value, the most important next step right now is for vendors to appropriately articulate those best fit scenarios to audiences.

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