Would a $799 MacBook Air spell doom for ultrabooks?

With a starting price of $999, the MacBook Air is currently the cheapest notebook computer Apple sells. But it costs twice as much as an iPad, and twice as much as the average Windows notebook computer.

So while the MacBook Air is a fairly successful product for Apple, you have to wonder what would happen if the company took away a few bells and whistles and offered a model that was more competitive with Windows notebooks.

DigiTimes reports that’s exactly what Apple is considering doing.

MacBook Air

According to DigiTimes Apple could launch a $799 ultrabook model during the third quarter of 2012.

The move would come at a time when PC makers are trying to push “ultrabooks,” which are ultraportable laptops that share an awful lot of DNA with the MacBook Air. Like the MBA, ultrabooks are thin and light notebooks with solid state storage, nearly instant-resume from sleep, and the latest Intel chips.

A handful of ultrabooks are available in the $800 price range, and Intel is hoping to see even cheaper models soon, possibly with plastic cases instead of metal. But most ultrabooks on the market today carry price tags of $900 or higher and struggle to match the build quality of Apple’s MacBook Air line.

Apple has long shown that shoppers are willing to pay premium prices for devices that they at least believe offer superior quality. That’s why Apple can sell millions of iPads at $499 and up while competitors struggle to sell a fraction as many Android tablets at a fraction of the price.

If Apple starts to sell MacBook Air models that are cheaper than many ultrabooks, it could spell trouble for competing PC makers.

On the other hand, fans of the Windows operating system might still find an ultrabook from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo or Samsung to be a better bargain than a MacBook Air. Even at $799, you’d have to spend an extra $100 or more to buy a Windows license if you want to run Microsoft’s operating system on a MacBook Air.

There’s also no guarantee that Apple will release a cheaper Air. DigiTimes is a Taiwanese publication with sources at the companies that build most consumer electronics devices sold in the West. But DigiTimes has a hit-or-miss record with this kind of rumor.

  • brian

    It’s a stupid category. Thinness doesn’t matter nearly as much as weight and size. I want something functional, not designer. I suspect this is true as a whole.

    • http://rationaldreaming.com/ Mike

      Except that thinness is very much a factor when it comes to weight and size given that screen size is very much a limiting factor when it comes to the other two dimensions.

  • Bruce

    I am skeptical. Apple does not play the “race to the bottom” game very often. And from reading asymco.com, my understanding his that Apple’s profit margins are higher on tablets than Macs. A low cost 7″ tablet seems more likely than a low cost MacBook Air.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple make the same move they did when introducing the “new iPad.” Keep selling last year’s MacBook Air for $799 and up while introducing a new Ivy Bridge model for $999 and up…

      • someone

        Not sure that makes sense though for Intel, unless they want to deeply discount SandyBridge processors to keep their 32nm capacity going… That or slash profit margin which doesn’t seem very much like an ‘Apple Move’ either. It’d be nice, but I also don’t see it happening, but hope to be surprised.

        On another note, I’m not sure what bells and whistles they could cut to hit that price point. The SSD? There’s no room for a conventional hard drive. The RAM is already anemic and soldered to the MB… The screen? The uni-body aluminum case? What do you cut?

      • Me

        Nothing of the sus mentioned… Just their margin.
        No, seriously and more probably, as Brad said, they could keep on selling the old MBA version side by side with the coming new one. They could therefore profit from the scale economy/savings they would make.
        Apple CANNOT make cheaper products by lowering their “perceived” quality.
        It would be like shooting themselves in the foot because ALL their brand is based on ptoduct marketing (superior quality)

      • Bruce_Mc

        A little late in following up, but Apple is selling refurb Airs for under $799. I just recommended a 4GB model to a neighbor. Apple doesn’t publicize these very much, but they are available online at store.apple.com.

  • dkstrauss

    Bruce is right, just because a notebook can be made to imitate a Ginsu carving knife doesn’t make it the best tool for the job. For example, the “frumpy” Toshiba R835 series is 1″-0.7″ “thick”, and a “porky” 3.2 lbs, BUT, it includes full voltage core i5, a user replaceable 7 hour battery, standard 2.5″ replaceable hard drive, up to 8gb ram, DVD writer, and standard size ports (USB – 3.0, 2.0, and combined eSATA/USB; HDMI; VGA; ethernet; SD Card) – all for $799.
    No, I wont be Joe cool, and will have to carry an extra 1/2lb of magnesium and plastic (better squeeze in some more workouts), but oh what complete office productivity machine I will have at the end of the trip.

  • toronado455

    “With a starting price of $999, the MacBook Air is currently the cheapest full-fledged computer Apple sells.”

    Wouldn’t the $599 Mac Mini qualify as a ‘full-fledged’ computer? Or are you talking only portables?

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Yeah, I probably should have said cheapest notebook, cheapest mobile full-fledged PC, or something along those lines. I’ll amend now…