Strictly speaking, an Ultrabook is a mainstream oriented ultra-portable laptop as defined by Intel. Ultrabooks come with a screen-size between 11.6″ and 13.3″ with 14 and 15-inch models making their appearance in the news recently.
The purpose of an Ultrabook is to let you get work done while on the go, keeping weight under or around 3 lbs for superb portability, battery-life around 6-hours for superb mobility. Laptops in this category usually don’t have an optical-drive just like netbooks, but come with strong dual-core processors unlike netbooks.
That much for the textbook explanation, let’s get on with the real purpose of these things.
Intel behind every puppet…
You don’t have to be a keen-eyed IT professional to have seen a Macbook Air. In fact, your parents probably can identify one. It’s that common. Main-stream, even. Macbook Airs have been dominating the ultra-portable workstation market segment for at least three years now. The processor is strong enough to get things done, the battery is good enough to get you through most of the day. Not to mention the staple wedge-shaped razor-thin design that makes it so easy to spot.
Intel sells 100% of the processors used in Apple Macbook Airs.
There are two feasible ways for Intel to sell more processors and the related controller chips. The unfeasible way would be to squeeze AMD (the closest competitor) even harder in the value laptop segment, where it still has a sliver of a market-share.
The two proper ways Intel can take towards more sales are to either push Apple’s cart and help them sell more Macbook Airs or define a category of its own. The latter requires Intel to team up with Windows PC manufacturers. Send every laptop maker against each other and Apple, and make record profits by moving more low-voltage chips than ever before. At least that’s the plan if they’ve got one.
It doesn’t matter which Ultrabook sells the best as long as it sells and Intel gets to manufacture and make a healthy profit on the most expensive part: the processor (and the North-Bridge chip, wireless-controller chips, graphics chip etcetera).
Apple as the model
Whether you like or hate everything Apple, you have to admit Ultrabooks bear an uncanny resemblance to the 2011 MacBook Air 13″. Same wedge-shaped silhouette, same proportions. Some even go as far as trying to copy the spacious, buttonless trackpad. Look at the keyboard, and you can identify other points where some laptop makers turned to Apple for inspiration. I wouldn’t bet that my mom can tell an Asus UX31E from a Macbook Air, and she’s quite a power user compared to her peers.
It is super obvious in some cases, like the one mentioned above, not so obvious where the laptop maker took the effort to differentiate, like Lenovo and its U300S.
Why would I buy an Ultrabook instead of the Air, then?
Because of money.
Most of the Ultrabooks cost less than the entry-level 13-inch Macbook Air, yet bring in the same Solid-State Drive storage space, the same amount of memory and the same processor-performance. Sometimes not just the same performance, but the exact same CPU model that is used in the Air.
What justifies the higher cost, then? Interestingly enough, it’s not as simple as ‘branding’. Apple’s trackpad and keyboard have been making their rounds in various Apple portables for years. The buttonless trackpad debuted in 2010 Macbook Pros, the keyboard has been around for even longer than that. Both the keyboard and the trackpad have been through revisions, and the end product is better polished than anything else on the market right now. It isn’t just subjective opinion either, many Ultrabook owners complain about their trackpads and keyboard.
Apple doesn’t skimp on build-quality. Edges are perfectly matched. Hinges don’t wobble, the screen stays firmly put. No squeaking from plastic parts, because there aren’t stretches of plastic used anywhere in the computer.
That’s not to say the Macbook Air is the perfect Ultrabook or even clearly superior per dollar. It’s to say it could be a decent attempt if it was an Ultrabook to begin with. By definition it isn’t — it doesn’t run Windows by default, but it can –, which is why it’s an honorary entrant.
So if you’d rather not pay $1,500 for a souped-up Air, but want a notebook that’s still slim and light, yet powerful enough for rudimentary Photoshop tasks or games, you probably want an Ultrabook. They can be had between $800 and $1200 depending on the type of storage –HDD or SSD–, processor, memory, screen and a couple of other factors.
‘Ultrabooks are still good to have around’, nodded the consumer.
Those of you who made it this far might think I’m a nutjob of an Apple fanatic, but that’s not true. I like a notebook that’s given the proper attention to quality is all. Which brings us to my point: the reason why it is important to have as many Ultrabooks on the market as possible.
The more options there are, the harder laptop-makers must try to stay on the ball. The more fierce the competition, the better the product is you get for your money. If Apple deems the situation uncomfortable enough, they’ll be pushed for better products as well. If it wasn’t for Ultrabooks, the Macbook Air would have no match, no competition. And we know where that moves price tags…
I like to see competition when it means that manufacturers can’t widen their profit-margins at your expense. If they can’t higher profits through innovation they’re waiting to be overtaken by the brands that can.
Put simply, the more Ultrabooks there are, the cheaper you get quality and performance for your money.
There are signs of this already. Samsung Series 9 ultrabook is going to creep up on Apple’s turf, going for a very similar target audience.
Lenovo will try to hammer its U300S between ultrabooks and 13″ laptops, while keeping it within Intel’s specifications.
Acer looks to adopt Thunderbolt in its S5 ultraportable, a port only found on Apple laptops at the moment.
HP experiments with the very resistant gorilla-glass all around its Spectre 14.
If innovation is not a good thing, I don’t know what is.
Even if the beginning needs to be a blatant-rip off of an existing product.
photo by thiloleibelt. Thank you!