Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

Summary: There have been a lot of thin Ultrabooks unveiled at CES this week, but none with the feature that will generate sales.


Thin laptops, aka Ultrabooks, are the big thing at the CES in Vegas this week. Every laptop maker has been showing off one laptop after another in one demo after another. It's been a blur of skinny laptop activity in the desert, but what no one seems to remember is thin laptops have been around for years. What makes them viable products in the market now is pricing, and only if that gets low enough to open consumer wallets.

Ultrabook is a marketing term cooked up by Intel in an effort to generate interest in the notebook space. The promise of thin laptops has long intrigued those who follow notebooks, but it's only now that the pricing is approaching mainstream levels to generate sales.

Sony, Dell and other OEMs have been making skinny laptops for years, but in the past those have always been products designed to show they can do so, not generate sales. Maybe you remember the Dell Adamo, a skinny, sexy notebook from the folks in Texas that hit the market with a big splash? The splash was due to a $3,000 price tag, a guarantee that few would actually be sold. This has been the case for years, with one thin laptop after another released with prices that compete with some cars.

The Ultrabook is supposed to end all that, with promised pricing of less than $1,000 to compete with the MacBook Air from Apple. Thin, light, fast and at a price that approaches that of the thicker, heavier notebooks of the past. It's not the thickness (or lack thereof) that makes Ultrabooks appealing, it is strictly the pricing.

While closely following the activity this week at the CES, I can't find a single appealing Ultrabook with an appealing price. Maybe I have missed one, but all of the cool new Ultrabooks I have seen have price tags far higher than the magical $1,000 starting point. I've seen $1,400 and up attached to quite a few notebooks, and that's not going to cut it in the market.

Even a price of $1,000 is not low enough to get registers ringing, as that still requires thought from the buyer to make a sale. It won't be until Ultrabook pricing drops significantly below that until we see consumers get excited about them.

The closer to MacBook Air pricing that Ultrabooks command, the less attractive they are to consumers. It's not like the Ultrabooks are bringing brand new capabilities to the buyer compared to the MacBook Air, which has been on the market for some time now. The price is the key feature that will determine how successful a given Ultrabook will be, and we haven't seen one yet that guarantees good sales.


Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility

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  • while (get == payFor)

    This is the same mantra we heard from ZDNet for a year concerning Android tablets, finally culminating in the highly-predictable, "Hey! These cheap Android tablets suck!"

    First you cheer on a 'race to the bottom,' then you decry the fact that the ones at the bottom are poorly-made junk. Does that really come as a surprise?

    The manufacturers aren't ready to ramp up production on these things anyway. So they may as well pick the pockets of those who just absolutely positively must have the latest thing.
    Robert Hahn
  • Can one have his cake and eat it too?

    Seems not yet at least. What I find interesting is that Apple did this what now a few years prior. What I heard when the Air came out was it's thin but so expensive. Turns out several years later it was not and still is not. If everyone else and their mothers is breaking their behinds to match you spec wise and price wise and failing then you know you've done something right. Same can be said about tablets. When the iPad came out it was called the Ho Hum product of the year. Yet what everyone forgot is the host of tablets that came out prior to the iPad. The cost of those prior tablets and the battery life. Now today people complain still about the iPad price. It's to high!!! Well not for Apple cause they are selling quite a lot of them and not based on what came before the iPad and whats coming out lately at least:)

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
    • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

      @James Quinn
      I am a person who owned quite a few tablets of every persuasion... far before the iPad hit the market. My feelings about most of my purchases are that some were too expensive (far higher than the iPad) and those that were priced lower than the iPad were simply pieces of junk. Apple hit it right in every area... good, decent price; extremely good quality; innovative features that do the job and do it right; and effective marketing. Those same qualities are what any product needs to make a splash... including the new crop of so-called 'Ultrabooks'.
    • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

      @James Quinn <br><br>I've also had a few tablets and the GRiD Convertible was the best of them. The iPad is awesome for my father, but nobody I know uses one (though some of their kids do). <br><br>On Ultrabooks, I disagree also that price is the differentiator. I recently became an Ultrabook early adopter because I needed to replace my Vaio - no choice. I would have waited if I could have because the press was touting all the new 'features' that were 'coming', but I didn't have that option. <br><br>Alas, I made a great decision - an Acer. I've been using it for about 3 months now, and just love it. The skinny is good, the price was just slightly under $1k - which was annoying, but OK. The real Wow for me was instant-on and loooooong battery life, both of which I get. This was a big upgrade over the Vaio, which cost a lot more 4+ years ago. And the darn thing is as rugged as you can imagine and as fast as I could want.<br><br>I do like the modern tablet concept for reading, but IOS (and Android too, I'm sure) is so dreadfully lame, that it can't replace the PC/laptop/UB. I can use it for email and browsing, as well as a number of cute little things like checking the weather and hearing fart sounds, but little else. Many love it though. Good on 'em.
  • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

    $1000 is too much for a notebook or ultrabook or macbook. If you pay that you got sucker written all over you. Price needs to come down on any thin laptop if they want sales. These marked up prices are just ridiculous.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Market up? How? Where is the proof of this?

      @Loverock Davidson- ... Now I can imagine that a company or three might try getting more for a given product especially "IF" they are victims of the PC Price Wars and make razor thin margins on every thing else they sell but some company out there would see the advantage and sell a thin laptop at the lesser price I would think but what this writer has pointed out is that they can't seem to do so. So I ask you again where is the one company or several for that matter that is selling the ultra cheap ultrabook?

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • Magical thinking

        Decades of schooling performed by the stupidest 1% have left us with a population of would-be Pricing Commissars to whom manufacturing cost is not an issue... only their own subjective judgements of what prices "should" be in their sweet little heads.
        Robert Hahn
      • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

        @James Quinn Right on, as usual. What has not been mentioned yet is that most ultrabooks accomplish their thinness, light weight, speedy booting and long battery life by using solid state memory, instead of heavier, thicker, slower and battery draining hard drives. And for now, there is a higher cost for all those benefits because the component cost is higher. Still, if a prospective buyer can't rationalize the higher cost, even with the greater benefits, for his or her specific uses, well, that's why we have choices in the market.
    • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

      @Loverock Davidson- <br><br>We have about 500 in our field sales that would love to rid themselves of the sore shoulders and tired backs by carrying a laptop weighing less than 2 lbs.
  • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

    Bingo! Ultrabook laptop prices are too high. I rather get a regular laptop.
  • It would be interesting to know...

    ... which part of the AIR specification the ultrabook wannabe's are having trouble meeting. It could be the case that Apple, having completely outflanked their competitors in the global supply chain, are offering good value ... but that the price is still too high for a typical consumer.

    Perhaps we should be looking to AMAZON for a $400-500 ultrabook, based on Android and ARM? Intel, M$ and Windows OEM's seem to be out of ideas.
    • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

      @johnfenjackson@... <br>Problem is, if you add Android to the equation, you no longer have a viable laptop. I own an Android phone, an iPad, and a Windows laptop... none use the same OS. I somewhat enjoy Android on my phone but I in no way want it on my laptop! Of the three OSs that I use, it's beyond-a-doubt my least favorite. The applications I use on my laptop have no viable alternative to be used with a phone OS.
  • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

    Yes it is the skinnyness per dollar that is the difference here ... and one more big feature -- touch. If your screen can't accept gestures, you compete against notebooks only -- if touch, throw in "instead of" tablets and all of a sudden you have this powerful gadget with a built on key board that does Wintel and is still a tablet -- now that's worth it! And fortunately the addition of touch is not expensive.
  • There's a reason "normal" laptops aren't as skinny

    Thin laptops are not only costly, but lack some things one takes for granted in a "normal" laptop; 500G disk space, DVD writer, and less obvious things like 2 RAM slots so RAM can be added, and RAM you can replace if it goes bad.

    In contrast, some thin Apple laptops solder the RAM into the motherboard. That sort of tackiness I'd expect from a bottom-scraper Netbook, not "executive jewelry".
    • So you say

      @cquirke But I'm sure the Apple designers would say the tradeoff is a more sealed unit, with fewer fasteners and doors to mess with, and that allow dirt and dust in--and it is a factor in their thinness. Doesn't suit you? Don't buy it, but there really is no need for your smarmy, pejorative comments. And I suppose you actually do know that Apple laptops do have two RAM slots, but you need to make a decision on the RAM you want when you configure it at purchase. Can't accept that? Buy something else. Seriously.
  • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

    The computer's problem is that it can diagnose a brain tumor or put a red card under a black one with equal indifference. The manufacturer has to sell this indifference to a wide audience of indifferent users. If it isn't powerful or expandable, well, it probably doesn't matter as long as it looks good or costs less. That reflects on the user's taste and not his or her primal needs which for the most part are amply dealt with by a good email program.
  • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

    What strikes me is that by eliminating the moving parts (HDD and CD/DVD player) the Ultrabook/Air class of machines should actually start to undercut traditional laptops . . . but not until 64 Gb storage falls to a reasonable price (which I feel is the minimum 'working size' for a machine, presuming that your media is stored in the cloud).

    Be interesting to see what happens once we have Windows 8 on ARM too.

    cquirke - I'm puzzled as to how you'd propose to get socketed RAM into something that thin - it would require some interesting mounting.
  • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

    Good points. I continue to be amazed by the number of MacBooks and Macbook Air's I see around me on a daily bases. The problem with the PC industry is there's hardly no innovation, just copy whatever is currently the hot successful product (Netbooks, thin MacBook Air clones). If it's priced identical or above a MacBook Air, why would anyone even consider it?

    Whatever happened to those Microsoft Laptop Hunter commercials btw? Where "ordinary" people walk around Best Buy looking for el cheapo Laptops instead of the "expensive" Macs? Now we have Ultrabooks the same price or above MacBook Airs.
  • RE: Skinny laptops are nothing new, it's the pricing that matters

    This article completely misses the point, the missing piece is not just price, it is also battery life. Power is the problem that the iPad solved. Ask anyone with a thin laptop where the power cord is and they know, it is either powering the laptop at the moment or it is close at hand. These new skinny laptops are actually skinny because they have the battery life to allow them to be carried without the power cord and sip so little power that the cords are easily pocketable. That is the flexibility that executives and students will pay for, but only the students will care about the price.
  • APPLE wins again!

    Apple wins because of integration with itunes, ipods, iphones, ipads, and mac's.
    Software, icloud, seemless sync across all their devices, design, style, wow (cool factor), and decent, not low price, but decent for the value add experience and best in class quality. Steve still rules!!!