Ultrabooks are selling well, driving up the cost of notebooks
Ultrabooks are thin notebooks with Intel Sandy Bridge or newer processors, decent battery life, and solid state storage for speedier performance than you get from hard drives.
They’re also a lot more expensive than the last big trend in ultraportable computers. Netbooks hit the market in 2007 with prices starting at $400. Today you can pick up a decent netbook for under $300.
But while netbooks focused on portability and power, ultrabooks are defined by portability and power. And features like high performance processors and solid state disks don’t come cheap.
When the first ultrabooks hit the streets in 2011 they were priced around $1000. There are some cheaper options now, with prices as low as $600. But it’s not likely we’ll ever see ultrabooks sold for netbook-like prices. They’re designed to do two things: drive up consumer expectations for what a portable laptop can do, and convince people that pricier laptops are worth the cost.
And it looks like it’s working.
Research firm NPD reports sales of notebooks priced at $700 or higher jumped from 12 percent of overall notebook sales during the first five months of 2011 to 14 percent in the first five months of 2012.
Notebook sales are down overall. They’ve fallen about 17 percent. But sales of notebooks that cost $700 or more fell just 3 percent, and sales of notebooks that cost $900 or more are actually up by 39 percent, according to NPD.
Not all of those expensive notebooks are ultrabooks. But NPD says that about 11 percent of the notebooks costing $700 or more that were sold in the first five months of 2012 were ultrabooks.
As reported recently, average price of a laptop is still reasonably low, at $510. But NPD says that’s about $13 higher than the average price a year ago.
I have mixed feelings about all this. On the one hand, there’s no denying that ultrabooks offer a better computing experience than netbooks (although it’s tough to compare a 4.5 pound, 15.6 inch notebook that technically fits into the ultrabook category with a 2.6 pound, 10 inch netbook).
But on the other hand, what initially excited me about netbooks were the low prices. Thin and light computers have been around for decades. But until 2007, ultraportables such as the Toshiba Libretto laptops always carried premium price tags.
What netbooks brought to the table was the idea that if size and weight were more important to you than high performance, you could find a laptop that met your needs for under $400.
Unfortunately, while that was great for consumers, it necessarily resulted in lower profits for PC makers and chip makers like Intel, which is a large part of the reason Intel is pushing the new ultrabook category.
I would be thrilled to see this new category succeed if I weren’t worried that it will only do so at the expense of cheap ultraportable laptops.
Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba have already pretty much pulled out of the US netbook market. Since it doesn’t look like Microsoft will offer a low cost, “Starter” edition of Windows 8 for netbooks, I expect to see other companies follow suit once Windows 8 hits the streets later this year.
Low cost tablets are starting to fill the space once occupied by netbooks — but even if you pair a laptop-style docking station with an Android tablet, it’s still an Android tablet that can’t run desktop Windows-style apps.
On the other hand, I suppose folks that really want to run a desktop operating system on an inexpensive mobile laptop will always be able to hack together their own solutions. For instance, you can pick up a cheap Mini PC like the MK802 and a Motorola Lapdock for under $150 and make your own portable Linux-powered laptop.
via Laptop Magazine