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Web Watch: Intel Pushes Its Ultrabook Concept


The tablet battle is over. Or is it? Intel is selling its ultrabook concept as the best choice for computing power and portability.

The tablet computer battle is so 2011. It's time for the ultrabook battle of 2012, which is scheduled to begin officially on January 10 when the Consumer Electronics Show opens in Las Vegas.

There's even more money riding on this one, so let's hope it's livelier than last year's tablet battle, if you can call it that. Apple's (AAPL) iPad just stood there looking great while everybody else fell over in a swoon, with the sole exception of Amazon (AMZN), which sells iPads as well as its own cut-rate competitor, the Kindle Fire tablet.

In the vanguard of the ultrabook battle is Intel (INTC), which is making a huge effort to popularize devices built on its next generation of processors, nicknamed Ivy Bridge and due in the second quarter of 2012.

The selling point: Ivy Bridge at last enables computer makers to build a device that has both real power and real portability at a reasonable price.

The new chip is supposed to be 37% faster than the company's current line, nicknamed Sandy Bridge.

Intel came up with the "ultrabook" name, and trademarked it, in order to sell the concept of a light, skinny laptop with real power, one that boots up fast but drains its battery slowly. Its marketing is expected to directly disparage the iPad as a comparative lightweight in function as well as form. (Actually, Intel's marketing people go over the top with that message, in a video that makes an ultrabook look like a Death Star.)

But, you may well say, this sounds more than a little like the Apple MacBook Air. And so it does, although there are differences:
  • There will be plenty of brand-name competition. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Toshiba already have ultrabooks on the market. Dell (DELL), Lenovo and Acer are expected to introduce their models at CES. estimates that as many as 50 more name brand ultrabooks will be unveiled in Vegas this month, with more coming after Intel releases the newest processor this spring.
  • Initially, most ultrabooks are expected to be priced in the $900 to $1,400 range, about the same as a MacBook Air. But prices can be expected to drop below $700 fairly quickly, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • The standard operating system is expected to be Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 8, which will be available in a beta version next month but is not expected to be officially released until October. That means Microsoft marketing muscle will be behind this, too.
  • Intel wants the ultrabook to succeed so badly that it has set aside a $300 million venture capital fund to support development of devices using its new generation of chips.
So, it looks like this battle might be more fun to watch than the last one. But the strategy had better address a few potential problems, like these:
  • Computer makers and sellers have never been very good at explaining to consumers why they should choose one device over another. Shoppers already have to choose among "netbooks," "notebooks," and laptops, all of them looking pretty much identical, at prices ranging from roughly $300 to $1,400. "Ultrabook" could be just another ill-defined tag.
  • Not confusing enough yet? Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) will have its own contender in the ultrabook stakes, but it can't call it an ultrabook, since Intel owns that word. Its competing chip is expected to be introduced as early as this month.
  • Apple's competitors may not want to compete with the iPad anymore, but that's still what they're doing, really. There are just so many portable devices that people are going to tote around, and the phone is not expendable.
  • Consumers who have become accustomed to touch screens, especially younger consumers, may resist a return to 10-fingered typing.
For all of the above reasons, the ultrabook market may rely on the business market rather than on consumers as the early adopters. After all, their priority is never going to be fun and games.

Web Weekly In Brief:

The Ratings Are In: The 2011 Web ratings are in, and the big winners are Google (GOOG) and Facebook, if you read the Nielsen ratings, or Facebook and Google, if you read the Hitwise results.

The difference in results is easily explained: Nielsen's list of Top 10 US Web Brands in 2011 shows Google in the top place for average number of unique visitors per month. That number includes the various brands that bear the Google name, like Gmail, as well as its flagship search site. But its YouTube site is listed separately, at No. 5.

Experian's list of the Top 10 Most-Visited Websites leads with Facebook for a second consecutive year, followed by Google in second place, but Gmail is listed separately, in eighth place. YouTube lands in third place.

Neither list offers any big shockeroo, but there are some interesting points:
  • Yahoo (YHOO) is hanging in there. It takes third place in the Nielsen list, and it has three of the top 10 places in the Experian most-visited sites list, for its mail, its main home page, and its search page.
  • Facebook owns the social networking space to a frightening degree. Nobody comes even close to its reach in a separate Nielsen listing of social networks and blogs.
  • Google's YouTube dominates the video space to an equally frightening degree, in a Nielsen list of video destinations.
And if you think the Google vs. Facebook rivalry hasn't gone far enough, consider this: Google remains the dominant search engine. But the top search term of the year 2011, according to Nielsen, was… Facebook.

Okay, it's a fluke. It seems that people increasingly are using the search field instead of the browser bar in order to navigate around the Web. Obviously, nobody searches for Google on the Google search page. But still…
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