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Intel Launches Massive Marketing Campaign for Ultrabook


The plot thickens as next-wave laptops hit the market and the chipmaker launches a huge marketing campaign to support them.

The first round of "ultrabooks," the thinner, lighter, faster machines that Intel (INTC) cooked up to reinvigorate the PC market and, not incidentally, sell a new generation of its chips, was unveiled late last year.

They didn't set the world on fire in 2011; best guess is that fewer than a million were sold by all the brands put together. Everybody involved says they didn't really expect ultrabooks to take off in 2011, and to give them credit, they said the same thing last year as well.

But now it's 2012, and it looks like this is the year, and April is the month, that Intel and Co. hope to stake their claim to the future of the not-Apple (AAPL) computing market. Microsoft (MSFT) is along for the ride, too, since most ultrabook models will come installed with its totally revamped and touchy-feely Windows 8 operating system by year end.

So, here's what's happening this month, for what you might call Chapter 2 of the ultrabook story:
  • Intel will launch a massive marketing campaign, online and on television, to support its new Ivy Bridge processor and the ultrabooks it was designed to run on. The company will spend "many hundreds of millions of dollars" on the campaign, an executive of tech research firm IDC told CNET. Judging by the Intel site, the commercials will involve musician taking his ultrabook along on a spectacular global adventure.
  • A whole new generation of ultrabooks has arrived from a half dozen PC makers, just months after their first versions were introduced. In a roundup of reviews, the New York Times calls the entire batch "satisfying, beautiful and exquisitely designed." They'd better be. Intel dropped another $300 million to help the hardware guys come up with design innovations for the ultrabook concept.
Even the Times reviewer, though, acknowledged that an ultrabook "isn't quite a MacBook Air." But many reviewers note that there are consumer advantages to that, too, including a wide range of choices and, in most cases, not-Apple pricing. The current batch of ultrabooks is priced at $800 to $1,500, with a midrange of about $1,000.

So, what happens in Chapter 3? That's when we get the happy ending, or not. Later in 2012, in time for the holiday spending season, there will be another whole round of ultrabooks. They will have all the bells and whistles, meaning both Ivy Bridge processors and Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system, with its built-in support for touch-screen technology.

Intel is hoping that the ultrabook market straddles both consumer and business worlds. The company is already fighting the MacBook Air comparison, so here's another one Intel will hate: The ultrabook is like an iPad with a keyboard and a lid. From a business user viewpoint, that might make it a more practical choice for a portable device.

That's the same hope that presumably drives two other big tech names entering the ultrabook market, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Dell (DELL). The early reviews are interesting.
  • Walt Mossberg of AllThingsD is complimentary, though not gushing, about Dell XPS13. He notes that it has all the specs of the MacBook Air but costs about $300 less, at $999. He found the battery life disappointing, which is not good since that's one of the things Intel hopes will be superior in its ultrabooks.
  • HP might have a winner with the HP Folio 13 model. PCWorld gave it 4 out of 5 stars in testing, and it's one of the lower-priced entries at $899. At the high end, it is offering a model called the Envy Spectre 14 that starts at $1,400.
Web Weekly In Brief:

A Week of PR Nightmares
There's bad news, and then there's unspinnably bad news, and somehow the latter blew through a remarkable list of tech companies all at once in the past few days. OK, some of the names below ran out of spin a while ago (ahem, RIM), but still, what a lineup!
  • Groupon (GRPN) confirmed the suspicions of many analysts that accounting is not its strong point. It did not help that the heart of the problem was an underestimation of how much money back dissatisfied customers would demand. The newly public company lost 17% of its value in trading Monday.
  • Global Payments Inc. (GPN) acknowledged that hackers had swiped information from its system on about 1.5 million credit card customers. The company acts as a middleman between merchants and card issuers. Visa (V) promptly dropped Global from its list of "approved third parties." That's not a ban, but it's not good for business, either. The news overshadowed its upbeat quarterly results numbers, announced Monday.
  • Research In Motion (RIMM) CEO Thorsten Heins admitted that the BlackBerry maker's troubles are far from over. He's exploring all options for the future, always an ominous phrase. The only option that's known to be in the works is the BlackBerry 10, a long-delayed update of the once-popular device that is now scheduled for late this year.
  • And last but not least, Yahoo (YHOO) was already having a challenging week when activist shareholder Daniel Loeb's Third Point launched Yahoo and Third Point are in the midst of a dispute over the company's direction and the website advocates for the board members Loeb would like to appoint. Meanwhile, there are rumors that Yahoo is planning massive layoffs this week and restructuring next week.
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