Macbook Air vs. Ultrabook Platform (Part 2)

6/2/2012 3:13:29 PM

A question of cost

Pricing is a legitimate concern for the big OEMs that deal with smaller margins and a dogmatic aversion to risk. The possibility of spending millions on a new and experimental line that fails tto catch on has serious consequences for them.

Take the Dell Adamo XPS for example. The laptop is only 10mm thick, with a design quirk that places the hinge mechanism partway up the screen, forming a kind of stand with the keyboard that allows you to type at an angle. It had an Intel Core 2 Duo CULV processor and it weighed only 1.5kg. Despite that, the machine pretty much sank without a trace.

Description: Dell Adamo XPS

Dell Adamo XPS

The Adamo XPS launched at $2,625 in 2009, which is too much to pay for a machine with a 61-minute battery life. Dell felt that the design warranted the price, but was forced to cut it dramatically in 2010 and failed to capture the kind of sales Apple had been achieving for two years beforehand. The product was discontinued and now the only trace of its existence is a clearance model going for $1,500 at Best Buy UK.

However, there is still the belief in the technology industry that a light, durable and fast premium machine represents the future of mobile computing.

According to Peter Hortensius, Lenovo’s product group president, ‘This new type of personal computing aligns with our continual focus on engineering innovative laptop solutions that push the boundaries on mobility.’ And Asus (which, along with Acer appears to be leading the Ultrabook pack) has revealed that 20 per cent of its shipments of laptops next year will be Ultrabooks. When launching the Macbook Air, Steve Jobs also remarked that in the future, all laptops would look like it.

The light aluminium unibody design, solid state hard drive, long battery life and standby period are all similarities between the two, but the ability to use Windows will be key to the Ultrabook’s success against the Air.

Operating systems

Description: games and applications for Windows compared to iOS

Games and applications for Windows compared to iOS

Windows usage still outranks OS X across the UK, and accounts for 80 per cent of computers around the world. In some cases, users are happy to install Windows or Microsoft Office onto a Macbook Air through Apple’s Bootcamp driver because the advantages outstrip the effort involved.

With the much greater choice of third-party software, games and applications for Windows compared to iOS, there’s a large section of the market who have been put off the idea of switching to a Mac because of the limitations of its operating system.

Microsoft is turning corners itself. Vista is all but forgotten thanks to the success of Windows 7, and plenty of us are excited about the impending arrival of Windows 8. The company has a vested interest in the success of the Ultrabook platform – particularly considering the battering it’s been taking in the mobile arena, losing out to Apple and Google.

That said, even with a large Windows following opting for an Ultrabook, it would be dangerous to count Apple out of the fight. The company produces some of the most desirable consumer electronics in the world and inspires devout loyalty from its customers. It still has a strong hold over the tablet and smartphone markets.

A strong start

Description: Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook

The Ultrabook platform has got the important things right – primarily design an performance. The only barrier that may hamper the success of the platform is keeping the price at acceptable levels for consumers, but based on the current crop of models, that doesn’t appear to be a problem. At the time of writing, the 13.3in Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook with Core i5, 4GB RAM, 320GB SSD and a six-hour battery life costs $1,050 at John Lewis. Elsewhere, the 11.6in Asus UX21E also with Core i5, 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD and seven-hour battery life is on sale at for $1,275.

Despite coming round to the idea of an elegant, premium Ultrabook standard has started strongly by refusing to compromise – a decidedly Apple-lie approach. Furthermore, considering the models available now are the first iteration of the new platform, we still have significant developments to look forward to – not just the addition off Ivy Bridge processors, but also Windows 8. Even though the Ultrabook platform took its time getting here, the result is already impressive and its brightest days lie ahead.

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