PC Ultrabooks Looking to Rain on the MacBook Air’s Parade

PC Ultrabooks Looking to Rain on the MacBook Air’s Parade

the Asus UX21 - set to release later this year

The MacBook Air has ushered in a new era of powerful netbooks that function more like prosumer computers. In our review of Apple’s latest 2011 MacBook Air, it’s obvious that the Air now packs a punch and accompanying price tag that most notebooks of similar size haven’t been able to dream of for years.

The PC market is looking to level the playing field between the Air and its competition, with Intel announcing a new platform called the “Ultrabook.” The Ultrabook is the PC industry’s proposed MacBook Air killer, but these upcoming notebooks will also have an ultra-price tag that’s higher than the Air’s. Apple’s entry-level MacBook Air retails for $999.

Intel’s Ultrabook platform will be a new class of notebooks that Intel promises to be less than 0.8-inches thick, weigh about 2 pounds, offer longer battery life, and boast a price tag under $1,000. Ultrabooks will also run on Intel’s new 22nm Ivy Bridge processor. Unfortunately, the first Ultrabooks to hit the market later this year are predicted to be priced much higher than that.

The first wave of Ultrabooks are expected to drop in the coming months from manufacturers like Asus and cost an upwards of $1,600. Digitimes claims that, while Intel wants the first Ultrabooks to be sold at the $1,000 price point, “actual production costs render the hope practically infeasible.”

However, the leading Ultrabook for this holiday season will be the Asus UX21, and Asus has been adamant that their upcoming notebook will be less expensive than the 11-inch MacBook Air. Asus is also taking a cue from Apple by casing the UX21 in a familiar unibody design.

PC manufacturers have already been trying to make MacBook Air-like laptops, with Dell putting out products like the Adamo XPS and Lenovo touting notebooks like the Thinkpad XI. Nothing has really separated these attempts at super-thin laptops from the Air, but Intel promises that Ultrabooks will be different.

Intel is obviously trying to take a stab at the iPad as well, with Intel Executive Vice President Sean Maloney saying that Ultrabooks will boast “tablet-like features” in a very “thin, light and elegant design.” Sales results have not been impressive for Android-based tablets, like the Motorola Xoom. And Windows-based tablets have seen almost no consumer adoption whatsoever in the last several years.

While it’s true that the Air’s specs do not stack up to some of Dell and HP’s cheapest laptops, the Air still seems faster to most consumers. The Air’s quick prosumer adoption is mainly attributed to its lighting-fast SSD and amazing battery life. Superb build quality also sets it apart from most competitively-priced Windows notebooks.

Even if the average Ultrabook is offered at the Air’s entry-level $999 price point, it’s unlikely that the majority of consumers will opt for what is essentially a Windows-based copy of the Air. Unless PC manufacturers can differentiate with various features and technical specs that draw customers away from Apple’s clutches, the MacBook Air should keep leading the ultra-thin notebook race for quite some time.

  • lwdesign1

    Here we go again. Apple creates, then the rest of the industry tries to catch up by copying everything they do. Where the heck is the innovation besides the guys at Apple?

  • OS2toMAC

    I don’t quite understand why Intel would come out with the “Ultrabook” platform.  They don’t sell computers, they sell the chips. 

  • Friends of Mac

    It’s been working like that since Apple started in the garage. Why change now. Amazingly, the copycats never make a better product. Plus the Air is so competitively priced that it’ll be tough to even match the price with a Windows license on it.

    -Chris
    http://friendsofmac.net

  • Wayne_Luke

    The main problem, as stated in the article, is that PC manufacturers have lost the ability to differentiate their products. They have become commodities much like the Toyotas and Buicks of the world. All you can really compete on is price and flimsy covers that change the color of the machine. If they can’t meet the $1000.00 price point how do they expect to compete? The Air starts at $999.00 so the point can be met. Will the PC manufacturers do it though?

  • Wayne_Luke

    To sell more chips and SSD drives.

  • techgeek01

    Asus Eee Pad Transformer and like tablets.  These will become a threat to ultra-books/MBA once the performance gets similar to of an ultra-portable laptops.

    Why pick up a tablet and/or a laptop, when you can get both in one?

    Asus already has confirmed a windows 8 powered Transformer.  Why pick up an “ultra-book”, if I can get the equivalence in a tablet/laptop hybrid?

    who knows?  maybe Asus or someone else will push the boundaries and make a 11 inch or 13 inch tablet/laptop hybird!

    The point of this is, can ultrabooks/tablets survive if more tablet/laptop hybrids start coming out?

  • foresmac

    The “ultra book” platform is essentially an identical copy of the MacBook Air. If they are destined to use Ivy Bridge processors, however, those won’t be hitting the market for close to another year. There’s no way that Asus is coming out with an Ivy Bridge processor by Christmas—forget it.

    I also have to disagree with this conclusion: “Even if the average Ultrabook is offered at the Air’s entry-level $999 price point, it’s unlikely that the majority of consumers will opt for what is essentially a Windows-based copy of the Air.”

    Actually, it is VERY likely. “Oh, that looks like one of those MacBook Airs I keep hearing about, only it runs Windows and all the software I’m familiar with.” That would sell far better than netbooks ever did.

  • Vendrazi

    If the price isn’t anywhere near the Macbook Air’s, these have no chance. How many times do we have hear that the MBA is an overpriced toy…and then these manufacturers can’t come within 10% of the price?

    Apple tax wut?

  • Jdsonice

    It ain’t just the hardware folks. There has be an OS that actually works. The so called MacBook Air killers are all running, guess what – Windows. I think Apple has more important things to worry about than a bunch of people running around screaming killer, killer, killer. 

    Sounds like the PC manufacturer who cried killer one too many times.

  • iDaBoss

    you should be punched in the throat for calling the air a netbook

  • bav14

    I found this new apple blog and it great!
    http://applefanboynews.com/

  • Zulvianes Budiman

    IMO, Asus is the ONLY PC manufacturer of notebooks that comes close to Apple in terms of design, style, and materials. others are just… too… um… *cough* crap.

  • berendsrob

    So the manufacturers know they can’t win the iPad race, so now they’re trying to compete with it with ultrabooks which cost twice as much… 

  • Brandon Cullison

    I am so glad that there is a huge lack of trolls and non-apple fanbois here! All of the Apple Fanbois leave nicer comments and are actually smart about technology!

  • changroy

    OMG are you nuts ? MacBook air is not a netbook ! LMAO get your facts right before writing an article !

  • ErinsDad

    The only shot PC makers have of derailing the Air is to hire Somali pirates to sink the all container ships coming out of China.  (I assume Ballmer doesn’t read this blog, so I think we’re all safe for now)

  • Uri Lev Kelman

    Apple was just awarded a patent for the MacBook Air design. Prepared to get sued, Intel.

  • Guest

    I’m a faithful PC user.  I can’t stand Apple’s strange UI.

    I would pay $1000 for an Intel ultrabook that kicks the pants off of the under-powered Air… As long as Intel has stopped bribing and threatening retailers/manufacturers for monopoly power.

  • Guest

    Intel has billions of dollars from years of monopoly-profits.  So… Intel doesn’t care if Apple tries to tickle them with a multi-billion dollars lawsuit.

    Did you forget that Intel easily bribed Dell 6-billion dollars not to use AMD processors?

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath is a staff writer at Cult of Mac and co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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