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Ultrabooks Get New Features, Prices, Screen Sizes

1/10/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

LAS VEGAS – With only about seven months in the
public eye, and only a small number of models on the
market, Ultrabooks have quickly gained a disproportionate
amount of fanfare and reinvigorated
the laptop category, according to vendors
and industry analysts.

These ultra-portable, high-end
notebooks performed well during
the holiday sales period and vendors
expect this trend to continue
during the new year, as Intel adds
more capability and features
to the design.

With the initial launch
now in its rear-view mirror,
Intel is at Internatinal CES
talking up what the second generation
of Ultrabooks will feature,
said Karen Regis, Intel’s consumer
client marketing director.

Intel created the Ultrabook concept
to give a boost to the laptop
category to enable it to better compete with the tablet
PC category.

A top priority is security, along with USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt
ports, Regis said. Intel has also worked to improve
the user experience making it more seemless by increasing
the performance of the solid-state drives (SSD) and
calling for the use of more hybrid SSD/hard disk drives,
she said. This will deliver more storage capacity while at
the same time give users a faster overall experience.

The company has built in a
layer of protection into the hardware
that will be needed as the
devices go mainstream in the
coming years, Regis said.

Touchscreens will also be added
to the Ultrabooks portfolio of
capabilities, Regis said, but probably
not until 2013.

Eric Ackerson, Acer’s senior product
marketing brand manager, called his company’s
initial Ultrabook rollout, the UX 21,
UX31 and the S3-951 in October, challenging
due to the time of year the company was attempting
to bring a new product into retail.

“The store plan-o-grams were set, and we had
to get them to hold a spot for a new product,” said
Ackerson.

He added that some of the national
retailers were skeptical about the category
and did not dive into it, but the
regional CE chains and mass merchants
did well, particularly during Black Friday.

“We’re getting better exposure at the regionals.
They can react better and have trained sales people,
Ackerson said.

However, in an odd twist, Costco has been doing an
excellent job by using good point-of-purchase materials,
he said.

Toshiba’s initial foray into the ultrabook
space was with the Portege Z 830 in November
at $799. Carrie Cowan, Toshiba’s
product marketing manager, consumer laptops,
said the product has energized the category
for Toshiba.

The company exclusively sold the Portege
Z830 through Best Buy until Dec. 31, but
other retail partners are anxious to get their
hands on it, said Tom Hume, Toshiba’s marketing
communications director.

Acer was surprised to find the ultrabook
attracted a different customer demographic
than originally anticipated. Joining the early
adopter/trendsetter buyer were many average
folks out looking for a new laptop.

Toshiba also believes mainstream laptop
customers would be interested in paying just
a bit more for an ultrabook. So the company
designed its second model in the segment
under its consumer Satellite brand, with a
lower price and more mainstream features.

Unlike its initial ultrabook offering — the
Portege Z830, which launched into retail in
November at a $799 — the new Satellite will
be less than $699. Exact pricing was not
yet available. A ship date is also not set, but
it’s expected to be in stores for the back-toschool
selling period.

The model is somewhat larger than the
Z830, with more mainstream features like a
larger screen.

Intel expects ultrabooks to become much
more of a mainstream product in 2012, with
more vendors jumping on the bandwagon.

“OEMs are excited about the opportunity
for a higher-priced notebook,” Regis said.
“The [price] race to the bottom that has occurred
in the laptop category has hollowed
out the middle, and we needed something
to fill the gap.”

Ackerson also sees some downward pressure
on price in 2012, a point Intel is not
keen to see happen. One main reason to
develop the ultrabook was to give computer
companies a product that will deliver higher
average selling points.

Ackerson expects ultrabooks to continue
to be successful in 2012. He expects more
vendors to enter the category as the year
progresses and a positive impact to be made
by Intel and Microsoft, which are putting a
great deal of financial, marketing and technical
resources behind the ultrabook concept.

Some of the changes Ackerson expects will
be the development of additional screen size
models and, as mentioned, lower price points.

Despite the category’s excellent start out
of the gate, it still needs a higher profile, particularly
to compete with the MacBook Air.

“More [consumer] education is needed,
and the industry needs to do more to make
the devices fun so we can compete with
what is coming out of Cupertino,” he said.

Hume said Intel’s promised $300 million
marketing campaign will start up during the
first quarter, and that it should help with the
education effort.

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