FORTUNE -- When Apple launched the MacBook Air, it got flack: not fast enough, not enough ports, too pricey, the optional external optical disc drive had as much portable appeal as a brick. Fast-forward three years, and the current version of the Air has become an industry example of what consumers want in mobile computing. Though Apple won't break down figures, an executive recently told Fortune that the lightweight notebook had been outselling its entry-level white MacBook earlier this year. (That model was ultimately discontinued.) Meanwhile, Gartner research reports Apple's overall growth in the mobile computing space outpaced PC makers -- for the last five quarters.
So what's a Windows PC maker to do? Fight fire with fire. That's partly why Intel (INTC) created the so-called "ultrabook," a new, svelte notebook category. The new name comes with a checklist of required hardware features attached: a model must be 0.8 inches thick or less, weigh under 3.1 pounds, use a solid-state flash drive, get five-plus hours of battery life in between charges and start at a price of $1,000. The chipset maker also set up the Intel Capital Ultrabook Fund, a $300 million fund for investing in companies working on ultrabook hardware and software, aiming foster technical improvements in battery life and storage for example.
If successful, Intel's prodding of PC makers to more diligently chase Apple (AAPL) could be a big boost to the Windows ecosystem as the surge in tablets threatens to take a bite out of notebook sales. (Apple reportedly threatened to walk away from Intel if the chip maker didn't make bigger gains in its technology.) But manufacturers like Toshiba, Lenovo, Asus and Acer -- all of which roll out ultrabooks this fall -- have plenty of obstacles that may be difficult to overcome.
Like design. While Toshiba's upcoming 2.5-pound Portege Z830, due in November, sports a look in line with the company's past products, Asus's offerings have drawn some criticism for looking too much like the Air, right down to the way that sheet of aluminum tapers in the corner. Comparisons in the looks department may be inevitable, though. "They're similar, but it's not hard to be similar," says Van Baker, an analyst with Garter Research. "You need the metal case for the structural strength, and they have to be thin because that's one of the requirements for the ultrabook brand. So when you say it's an all-metal case and thin, well guess what? It's gonna start looking like a MacBook Air."
Baker also points out the differences remain significant. There's the operating system for one; Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows still dominates in market share. Some of the aesthetic flourishes Apple is best known for may be hard to duplicate, meanwhile, such as backlit keyboards that light up in the dark. Such features may not make their way into ultrabooks for some time, if at all. Manufacturing such a thin chassis is a challenge, too, something Asus' own CEO Jerry Shen told The Financial Times, pointing to possible heat problems due to the processor.
Pricing will also be extremely important. Apple has never been considered "cheap," but the Air's recent $999 pricing scheme is reportedly a hassle for some PC makers who are dealing with higher production costs. Analysts Fortune spoke to indicate that, for ultrabooks to be competitive in the marketplace, they need to be priced below $1,000 and somewhere in between $700 and $750. This year, there will be few models that hit that sweet spot -- most of them have price tags starting at $1000 and climbing up to $2,000.
Intel and company will also have to do some savvy marketing. The chipset maker forecast that ultrabooks will own 40% of the global consumer notebook market by the end of next year, and 60% come 2013. That's an extremely aggressive prediction that some PC makers and analysts wonder is realistic. "That's going to take a lot of spend on Intel's part, to take a term that they invented and that consumers aren't aware of and get to the point where they go to a Wal-Mart (WMT) or Best Buy (BBY) and ask for an ultrabook," explains Baker, who remains skeptical.
Intel also has a mixed track record pushing specific types of computing tied to its chips. In 2004, the company sponsored an effective media campaign extolling the Centrino, which popularized the benefits of wireless Internet mobility. Other campaigns haven't fared so well. In 2006 for instance, Intel marketed Viiv to boost awareness of PCs designed as living room-friendly media centers. Viiv as a brand went nowhere and eventually died quietly, though the idea of the "media PC" lives on.
PC makers also have to fully commit. According to DigiTimes, Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba and Asustek may produce less than 50,000 units, too conservative to really make a dent in public awareness. And while Asus, for example, is technically capable of producing quadruple that each month, scaling beyond will require substantial investments in the company's supply chain, an investment that will likely be needed to take this category mainstream. Otherwise, the vaunted ultrabook may become just another uneventful blip on Intel's vast, expanding product roadmap.
Stephen Elop is sure he can turn Nokia around, but if succeeds it will be an entirely different Nokia.
FORTUNE -- Nokia chief executive officer Stephen Elop is a man on a mission. Despite the Finnish phonemaker's rough week (it issued a profit warning on Tuesday, which sent shares tumbling), the newish CEO recently made the rounds at a couple of confabs in Southern California to pitch his turnaround plan for MOREMichal Lev-Ram, writer - Jun 2, 2011 6:47 PM ET
While Intel chips power the servers that power the tablet and smartphone revolution, CEO Paul Otellini recognizes that's not enough.
Despite all the hullabaloo over a post-PC era, Intel chief executive officer Paul Otellini remains bullish on the traditional personal computing market.
At the chipmaker's annual investor meeting held earlier this week in Santa Clara, Calif., Otellini said Intel (INTC) will reinvent PCs, which will soon have features like all-day battery life, MOREMichal Lev-Ram, writer - May 18, 2011 3:40 PM ET
The formidable company has been behind the curve in mobile. Can a new way of building chips make it newly attractive to mobile device makers?
FORTUNE -- Intel processors are found in about 80% of the world's computers. But the company lags behind in mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, where chips licensed by rival ARM Holdings (ARMH) rule.
That may soon change, if Intel (INTC) can get a promising new technology MOREMichal Lev-Ram, writer - May 5, 2011 11:36 AM ET
New Sandy Bridge iMacs expected shortly
[UPDATE: The store is back up with new iMacs on display starting at $1,199.]
As expected, Apple's (AAPL) online store early Tuesday displayed its Post-it yellow "We'll be back soon" note, the universal sign that a new product is about to be released.
This time the new entry is widely expected to be an updated iMac, the workhorse Apple desktop that hasn't been refreshed since July 27, MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 3, 2011 8:33 AM ET
Oracle and Hewlett-Packard rarely miss an opportunity to diss each other. The latest round of press releases and quarterly earnings calls are no exception.
Earlier this week Oracle (ORCL) issued an oddly-worded announcement saying it would halt all development on software compatible with Intel's (INTC) Itanium microprocessor, and took the opportunity to point out that HP (HPQ) CEO Leo Apotheker did not mention his plans for Itanium in a recent presentation MOREMichal Lev-Ram, writer - Mar 25, 2011 11:40 AM ET
ARM may be the only way for GoogleTV to get a foothold in the living room.
In November, Bloomberg issued a report saying that Samsung was going to be building GoogleTVs (GOOG), likely with Intel (INTC) chips.
That didn't make sense to me. Samsung was developing its own high power chips that are almost as fast as the standard Intel Atom processors that are inside GoogleTVs, except they are based on the ARM architecture and are extremely low MORESeth Weintraub - Feb 27, 2011 11:00 AM ET
As widely expected, Apple (AAPL) took the wraps off its new line of MacBook Pros Thursday.
In addition to faster processors, higher-resolution cameras and FaceTime video chat software, the new models feature Intel's (INTC) new Light Peak input-output technology, which Apple and Intel have re-branded Thunderbolt. It comes in the form of a Swiss Army knife I/O port designed to eventually replace nearly everything -- FireWire, USB, Ethernet and a variety MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 24, 2011 10:07 AM ET
The White House has released the official list:
John Doerr, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Carol Bartz, CEO, Yahoo! (YHOO)
John Chambers, CEO, Cisco Systems (CSCO)
Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter
Larry Ellison, CEO, Oracle (ORCL)
Reed Hastings, CEO, NetFlix (NLFX)
John Hennessy, president, Stanford University
Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple (AAPL)
Art Levinson, chairman, Genentech (DNA)
Eric Schmidt, CEO, Google (GOOG)
Steve Westly, managing partner, Westly Group
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook
President Obama is scheduled to meet Intel's (INTC) Paul Otellini in Oregon MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 17, 2011 6:23 PM ET
Paul Otellini told a group of analysts last night that Nokia's choice of Windows Phone 7 over Android was simply a financial decision.
According to a Reuters report this morning, Paul Otellini isn't too thrilled with Nokia's (NOK) decision to go with Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Phone 7. In fact he thinks that Nokia chose the wrong platform and that the decision was strictly a monetary one.
Clearly, Otellini would have preferred that Nokia continue to MORESeth Weintraub - Feb 17, 2011 1:43 PM ET
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