Apr 032012

I like Intel. They helped Apple escape the slow, sweaty thumb of IBM/Motorola and their PowerPC chips and helped them usher in the OS X era. Inside every Mac beats a tiny Intel heart.

But as far as Intel’s business interests are concerned, Apple is a minor player. As witnessed by their stickers adorning their chassis, Intel has hearts beating inside myriad PCs as well. Like Google, Intel realizes the future is going to closely resemble whatever Cupertino does, especially in regard to mobile computing. Once all the critics came to their senses and confessed that the MacBook Air was indeed the future of laptops, Intel seized upon Apple’s success and began its “Ultrabook” campaign, starting a $300 million capital fund to foster innovation in the category of light and thin laptops – or MacBook Air clones. But if the crop of Ultrabooks that debuted at this year’s CES is any indication, what constitutes an Ultrabook is a very slippery slope. The consensus defines an Ultrabook as a 3-ish pound laptop that eschews the hard drive for an SSD, forgoes a physical media drive and has a non-swappable battery.  Some companies’ CES entries subscribed to the “knock off the Air as closely as possible” school, while others tried to shoehorn fat, thick laptops into the category and call them Ultrabooks. And then there’s the prices. The ones that are comparable to the MacBook Air (the Acer Aspire S3,Dell XPS 13 and Asus Zenbook UX31E) have fatal flaws: crappy screens, cheap materials and/or flaky trackpads. The ones that compare favorably (the Hewlett-Packard Envy 14 Spectre, Samsung Notebook Series 9 and Toshiba Portégé Z830) start at $1,500. So despite Intel’s good intentions and $300 million fund for – whataver – the market hasn’t quite caught up to the Air.

But the lack of success of a product never stops their pimps from running their mouths. Intel’s bout of verbal diarrhea comes from Anand Kajshmanan, a Ultrabook product manager Alison Wesley, a media relations rep, who sat down with PC World to talk about their wares. I have a strange feeling that Wesley did most of the talking.

PC World: Can you tell us a little about Ultrabooks and what makes them different?

Intel: “Ultra” means pinnacle, and we wanted the Ultrabook to be the pinnacle of everything that users have come to expect from their computing device. So we did extensive research into what users’ expectations were for their mobile computing devices, and there were four things that really stood out.

Users want ultra-responsiveness in their devices (you turn it on and it just works, with no interruptions); the ability to take their devices everywhere, with great battery life and connectivity; devices that just look cool and feel great; and products they don’t have to worry about when it comes to security.

Great start, guys. Four things stood out when we did our “extensive research”. Let me list six. And how do you work a parenthetical into an interview? Is that a part of the answer that was whispered?

When we came up with this category, we wanted to deliver all of these things in one device–and not only one device, but a plethora of choices, so each person can pick [the right Ultrabook].

Translation: we put up a bunch of money for companies to throw shit at a wall.

PCW: Many Ultrabooks look a lot like Apple’s MacBook Air. How are Ultrabooks different from the Air, and why would a person choose an Ultrabook over the more popular Air?

Intel: The MacBook Air is a great product, sure. It has the Intel Core processor, it’s a great choice for someone who wants to invest in the Mac operating system, and it offers some of the things we talked about. But really, with the Ultrabook, it’s about offering all those things in the same device–the great responsiveness, the great battery life–and with an operating system that people have come to love over the years, as well as all the legacy applications that they would like to run.

Except the Air runs “an operating system that people have come to love over the years”, by which I have to assume they mean Windows, along with all of those “legacy applications”. You can do it virtually via VMWare Fusion or Parallels or if you’re a real masochist you can use it exclusively as a PC via Apple’s Boot Camp. As an aside, I love that Apple named the product that allows them to turn their machine into a Windows box “Boot Camp”. Who is your squad leader, scumbag?!

And they want to do all this at mainstream price points, which is where we think one of the biggest key differentiators is, and the biggest value that Intel can bring to this space. We can actually get the ecosystem to move to an extent [that it will] bring all of these great features in a laptop down to mainstream price points.

PCW: What do you mean by “mainstream price points”?

Intel: We say “mainstream price points” rather than exact figures because it differs for every market and depends on your perspective. For example, [we were speaking with] a Korean businessperson at a trade show who said that $1000 was a very low price point for them. But $1000 might be high from your perspective, so we say “mainstream price point” to mean what the market will bear.

It’s curious that Intel thinks it can have an influence on pricing, given that it supplies one or two components among the hundreds that make up PC hardware. Maybe that’s why the Ultrabooks that have hit the market so far are either crap or priced hundreds more than the Air. But as Intel will tell us, pricing is “relative”. $20 may not be a lot to you, but $20 U.S. in China is a lot of money! We’re big fans of “perspective pricing”. Initially, we said “mainstream” like we meant “cheaper”, but if you’re going to ask us to be specific, we’ll have to backpedal and say “mainstream” means “whatever manufacturers are going to charge”.

The interview goes on to talk about the possibility touchscreen Ultrabooks, with Intel saying “For example, if there’s a touchscreen Ultrabook for $800 versus one without for $700, at least the option will be there. Again, it’s all about choice.” LOL. None of the current Ultrabooks cost $800, and touchscreen models will be $100 more? I guess Intel was talking about “choice” as a way to pick arbitrary numbers out of the air with no real-world correlation. They then poo-poo the iPad as a work device citing the customer input “‘We love touch, but don’t touch our keyboards.'”, then go on to say they look forward to incorporate iPad technologies like “sensors and accelerometers” in their keyboardy creations. We want it to be like a MacBook Air and an iPad – for $800.

These Intel guys must have gotten their speaking tips at the Jim Ballsillie/Mike Laziridis public speaking course.

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