Ultrabook Makers ‘Testing Waters’ Against iPad and MacBook Air

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Unsure of how Intel’s “Ultrabook” laptops will compete with the iPad and MacBook Air, manufacturers are “testing the water” by ordering less than 50,000 units for later this month. Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba and Asustek are reportedly uncertain how the revamped laptops will be greeted by consumers shifting to tablets and cloud computing. That sounds to us like they’re giving up and conceding victory to the MacBook Air before they even got started competing with it.

The news of a small initial production of the “ultrabook” concept comes as Intel prepares for a conference next week to settle “technology bottlenecks” slowing adoption of the design, reports industry publication DigiTimes. Those issues have prompt what the report terms a “conservative attutude” among companies already battered by the move to tablets and lightweight laptops, such as the MacBook Air. Among the cautious manufacturers are those struggling to recover after netbook demand fell off a cliff.

Intel introduced the “Ultrabook” concept in May, highlighting a design with “tablet-like features” that was “thin, light and elegant,” a blatant attempt by the ailing PC industry to lure consumers drawn to Apple’s iPad and MacBook Air.

The problem for PC makers may be keeping “Ultrabooks” priced below $1,000. Although Apple CEO Tim Cook is known for developing a solid supply chain able to grab large volumes and using cash reserves to save on costs, ultrabook manufacturers reportedly are search high and low for magnesium-aluminum components, as well as the available capacity to build the PC bodies.

Some analysts see this struggle to match price and features why ultrabooks won’t catch hold until at least 2012. Even before the first “ultrabooks” roll off the assembly line, the viability of the new line of PCs is already in question.