While at first glance, the ultrabook category may seem like just a laptop by any other name, analysts say it offers the channel important advantages and the opportunity to close higher-value, higher-margin sales with their customers.
The ultrabook is a category of thin, light, quick-booting laptops created by processor vendor Intel Corp. largely in response to the success Apple achieved with the Macbook Air. Specifications include integrated graphics, a solid state drive (for response time), and a unibody chassis to fit a larger battery in the smaller case. Intel has devoted $300 million to a multi-year marketing campaign to help launch the category and boost slumping PC sales.
Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo are among the vendors that have already brought ultrabook models to market, with more set to follow later in the year. With sleek design, portability and quick boot-up they bridge the gap between tablets and laptops, said James Alexander, senior-vice president with the London, Ont.-based InfoTech Research Group.
“For a lot of people, the iPad is love at first sight, but not necessarily second sight,” said Alexander. “It’s great for browsing and game playing, but eventually they might have to do some work. And there’s some things it just can’t do. An ultrabook is a nice compromise candidate.”
Of course, Alexander said that consideration could change if an Android or iOS version of Microsoft Office is released, for example.
“The form factor battle is going to continue to diverge rather than converge around any particular form factor,” said Alexander.
And for partners that don’t have a tablet option to offer customers, ultrabooks give them an option from the vendors they’re used to dealing with when clients are looking for a mobility play, and to address the consumerization of IT issue. He urges partners and customers to get creative here, noting when laptops first came to market many employers designed employee purchase plans.
It’s this bring your own device (BYOD) trend that makes ultrabooks a strong channel opportunity, said Tim Brunt, senior analyst for personal computing with IDC Canada, with the opportunity for partners not just to make the product sale, but bundle it as part of a larger strategy of mobile device management and support services.
“It’s much more difficult to manage a (BYOD) environment, which will put more pressure on partners to step up and put programs in place to help their clients,” said Brunt.
While there is growing interest in the ultrabook category these won’t be net-new customers, but largely conversions from traditional laptop/desktop users. But with consumerization and the interest in tablets, ultrabooks keep partners in the game, with the greater profit opportunity coming around services and management. There’s also a strong peripherals opportunity, with most ultrabooks having smaller solid state drives for storage.
Brunt said as ultrabook prices drop from the current $1,000 level to $600 to $700, which vendors have promised, and as more models with 11.5-in. to 13-in. displays come to market, the commercial market opportunity will really take off.
From the vendor perspective, ultrabooks fills a gap between lower-performing netbooks and higher-priced, higher-end laptops. Ultrabooks, including HP’s Folio 13 and Spectre, and been designed to meet the needs of the mobile professional, said John Cammalleri, channel lead in the personal systems group at HP Canada.
“What it offers partners and customers is the ability to continue investing in the HP portfolio without having to look at other vendors when they have mobility requirements,” he said. “And it does address the BYOD need, for sure. Apart from the the technology advantages, it’s nicer aesthetically. We’ve done a lot of design work around what it feels and looks like.”
There are dollars to be made for partners on ultrabook sales, and they’re typically similar to those available for regular laptops sales, although Cammalleri said, in the short-term, HP does have some incentives around ultrabooks. But more than that, he said, the channel opportunity is as part of a wider mobility solution, and that’s how partners should be positioning it.