Can Wintel win the Ultrabook market?

Moderated by Jason Hiner | January 16, 2012 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: Intel-powered Ultrabooks were everywhere at CES 2012. But can they beat Apple at its own game?

Ed Bott

Ed Bott




Robin Harris

Robin Harris

Best Argument: Yes

Closing Statements

It’s about time

Ed Bott

Four years ago, when Apple introduced the MacBook Air, it cost a fortune and it got mostly terrible reviews. It took Apple several more years to get it right, thanks mostly to improvements in processor and chipset design by ... Intel.

It's taken Intel's Windows customers a bit longer to get their act together, but the Ultrabook category represents an impressive step in the right direction: a commodity product that enables hardware makers to create small, light, powerful PCs that are optimized to run Windows.

I have no doubt that Apple will continue to make huge profits by selling its small notebook as a luxury item to the top of the market.

I also have no doubt that Ultrabook prices will continue to drop, because that's what the Wintel ecosystem does best.

Thankfully, this year Windows users will finally have a range of choices in an obviously desirable form factor. That's what competition is about.


A different view of win

Robin Harris

Many have a different view of "win" than I do. PCs and Ultrabooks are low-profit losers. The Wintel companies chasing the Ultrabook market - really, the MacBook Air market - can't win from a business perspective.

Manufacturers that ship a lot of product and eke out a small profit can't innovate fast enough. Ed conceded the point: "For five years, the Wintel ecosystem has been working on miniaturizing the components that make up an Ultrabook."

Just as Apple is the #1 supplier of all-in-one systems - the iMac - and surely the most profitable, it is clear that they will remain the #1 supplier of Ultrabook-class notebooks. And as in smartphones, they will win the lion's share of the profits, enabling continued investment and innovation that Wintel can only dream about.

That's a win in my book.

Price matters

Jason Hiner

This one was almost a draw. Of course, we don't do draws in the Great Debate. Robin is right that the Ultrabook movement hasn't really shown us a whole lot of innovation so far. It's mostly a lot of uninspired MacBook Air knock-offs.

Still, price does matter and I agree with Ed that the Ultrabook vendors are going to aggressively drop the price of their laptops in 2012 and undercut Apple. That will leave the high end of the market (and most of the profits) to Apple, while putting Ultrabooks in the hands of a lot more buyers. So, when we ask who wins this market, it depends on how we define winning.

I'm going to side with the majority of consumers, who will ultimately get a much better laptop than their last one when they buy an Ultrabook for under $1,000. That means Ed gets the nod.


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  • RE: Can Wintel win the Ultrabook market?

    Gosh Ed I thought you were more of a realist! But I am looking forward to reading your opinion.
    Reply Vote I'm for No
  • RE: Can Wintel win the Ultrabook market?

    They just work
    Reply Vote I'm for Yes
    • RE: Can Wintel win the Ultrabook market?


      Wintel will catch and exceed Apple. Apples tactic of everyone will be happy with our limited product line is ass nine. I'm sorry but I will never buy an Apple product....EVER!
      Reply Vote I'm for Yes
      • Who cares what you buy?

        Nobody here!
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • RE: Can Wintel win the Ultrabook market?

    Who wouldn't want a laptop that costs > $1K with lots of bloatware and all of the Digital Restrictions Management that you one could ever want? And you've got those very entertaining blue guys marketing the Intel hardware, that is more than enough to override any logic about cost or battery life usability.
    Reply Vote I'm for No
    • RE: Can Wintel win the Ultrabook market?

      @HackerJ: PC OEMs routinely fill their PCs with so much bloatware it slows the PC down and makes it less fun to use but the massive price differences ultrabooks will get to, people simply don't care enough.
      Reply Vote I'm for Yes
    • Economics 101 anyone?


      Yeah, well, that's how they manage to reduce the price of their systems and still stay profitable. Every time a user "clicks and buys" on one of those pieces of bloatware the software vendor makes a few bucks, the distributor makes a few bucks, and the hardware vendor that shipped the system with the bloat installed gets a few bucks. Compare that to Apple - you basically get to pay a higher price for less 3rd party bloatware and more *ahem* apple experience.

      Some of that "bloatware" is actually practical. I like Lenovo's security suite, including their fingerprint software. I love the fact that most reputable vendors have some kind of backup included on top of MS's shadow copy, including having the user pop in a few DVD's the first time they start up the system. I believe Apple moved their "backup" service to the cloud, i.e. your system disks (?) are in your i-tune account. Kinda silly if you ask me, but anyhoo. I guess it saves Apple $1.50 for every user rather than having to burn the discs. Perhaps their version of "premium" services and devices is slowly...."evolving"?!
      Reply Vote I'm for Yes
      • RE: Can Wintel win the Ultrabook market?

        @rock06r: Apple provides the backup on a thumb drive. Especially useful since you can't burn a DVD on an Air, they don't have an internal DVD drive anyway.

        And just how do Ultrabook makers provide their system backups? Don't you have to burn it to DVDs? Which means, for UltraBook owners, they, too, need to buy an external drive. Or burn the backup to a thumb drive. Which they have to buy.

        While I'm here, the question "Can Wintel win..." needs a goal defined. As Robin said, if it is numbers, Wintel will win. If is profits, Apple will win. Since I'd rather have profits than numbers, I vote "No."
        Reply Vote I'm for No
      • RE: Can Wintel win the Ultrabook market?

        @levinson "And just how do Ultrabook makers provide their system backups?"

        I don't have an ultrabook, but I have an HP Pavilion dm1 that has no optical drive and I had an Acer Aspire1 netbook (obviously with no optical drive) and both systems' recovery software allowed to create recovery media to a thumbdrive as well as DVD.

        I personally chose DVD with my USB burner plugged in as I think DVDs are more reliable than thumbdrive for long term storage, but I understand that not everybody's got a USB burner.

        I'm not for ultrabooks even if my reply seems to support it. I'm for the small form factor but not at the price ultrabooks are selling. The HP Pavilion dm1 I've got is a small form factor with long battery life even though it's not as thin as an ultrabook and it's got a real 640Gig hard drive instead of an SSD, but the price is right!
        Reply Vote I'm for No
  • RE: Can Wintel win the Ultrabook market?

    There are really two questions here: (1) Can Wintel Ultrabooks gain significant market share in the Ultrabook category? and (2) Can Wintel Ultrabook manufacturers make a reasonable profit from Ultrabooks?

    Based on history, I believe the answer to (1) is "yes". As in the "regular" laptop market, there are people who are locked into Windows and don't care about OS X and will gladly pay less for an Ultrabook that gives them the minimum features and capabilities they need.

    Also based on history, I believe the answer to (2) is "no". Also as in the laptop market, the large number of competitors will quickly drive the Ultrabook into becoming a commodity with vanishing profit margins.

    Which raises question 3 - should Apple be worried? Definitely no. There's no reason to believe their view of the Ultrabook will be any different than their view of the laptop - let the competitors sell as many of them as they want at insufficient prices.
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided