updated 09:40 am EDT, Wed April 11, 2012
Intel predicts flood of cheap ultrabooks
Intel PC Client general manager Kirk Skaugen used a keynote at the Beijing edition of the Intel Developer Forum to predict a heavy saturation of the ultrabook market. He saw ultrabook prices reaching down to $699 by the back-to-school period at the end of the summer, or down from the $899 and up more common today. About 75 models were in development for all of 2012, including some touchscreen models mostly intended for Windows 8.
The chip designer was partly counting on Ivy Bridge-era Core processors. While Skaugen didn't confirm the lineup at the Chinese event, new low-power Core i5 and i7 processors should improve performance and will be followed by a Core i3 version that should be key to the $699 price.
Intel has already been determined to establish the ultrabook category beyond its origins in Apple's MacBook Air and will be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a TV ad run of its own, including a Wild West-themed ad along with spurring retail chains to have "experience zones" that highlight the thin, lightweight, and responsive performance.
The price drops might be vital to Windows-based ultrabook designers, which so far haven't fared nearly as well as Apple in the market at a few hundred thousand units each at most. As the category needs high-quality shells, solid-state drives, and other high-end components, Windows builders haven't been able to compete on price alone, as they often prefer. Acer has admitted that it got its Aspire S3 to $799 only by pricing it at break even where it would have to price closer to Apple's level to maintain a reasonable profit.
The sheer volume of PCs may make it difficult for all but the largest companies to stand out. Parallels have already been drawn between the tablet market in 2011 versus the ultrabook market in 2012, where Apple defining the category a year earlier prompts dozens of competing, similar-looking devices a year later. Intel coined the "ultrabook" term to help enshrine the MacBook Air's basic concepts of very thin but high-speed notebooks to keep PC processors relevant at a time when ARM tablets risk undermining Intel's core business.