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Friday, January 13, 2012, 10:02 pm PT (01:02 am ET)

Reacting to Apple at CES 2012 part one: Intel's Ultrabooks


Ultrabooks are more than just a second-hand breath of Air

At the same time, Intel's Ultrabook plans are also getting support from Microsoft, which wants to see Windows running everywhere. Ultrabooks also promise to raise the average price of PCs, a goal Microsoft has already struggled with its PC partners to achieve, first in thwarting Linux on ultra cheap netbooks, then with Windows 7 pricing strategies.

In mid 2009, Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer said Microsoft would use Windows 7 to "readjust those prices north," part of an effort that BusinessWeek described as "a new pricing strategy around Windows 7 that the company hopes will result in far more upgrades to premium SKUs, and a reversal of a strategy in the last year to cut prices to spur demand in emerging countries."

Microsoft's efforts to raise PC prices with the help of manufacturers has resulted in small annual upticks in the Average Selling Prices of PCs over the past two holiday seasons according to NPD Group, a reversal of decades of plummeting PC prices that have continually eaten away the profits of PC makers and, in the last few years, even began to affect Microsoft's bottom line.

While most Ultrabook designs have features in common with the light and thin MacBook Air, others could be mistaken for MacBook Pros, with optical drives and conventional hard disks. So rather than being a malicious swipe at Apple by Intel to destroy the MacBook Air, Ultrabooks are really a quite desperate move to prevent PCs from losing their dependence upon Intel's x86 chip architecture as well as an equally desperate attempt to salvage the profitability of PC makers outside of Apple.

Ultrabooks are only copying Apple because Intel wants the same results Apple is experiencing. Unfortunately, Ultrabook PC makers lack the sophisticated operations and retail presence Apple has, in addition to lacking the halo provided by the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

While a variety of PC makers have also tried to build portable media players, smartphones and tablets, they haven't yet been able to match Apple in those categories either. Part two looks at Samsung's efforts with the Galaxy Note, and three provides an overview of Apple's impact on other CES exhibitors, including Motorola, Nokia, RIM and Sony.

Reacting to Apple at CES 2012, part one: Intel's Ultrabooks
Reacting to Apple at CES 2012, part two: Samsung's Galaxy Note
Reacting to Apple at CES 2012, part three: Sony, Motorola, RIM, Nokia