Ultrabook pricing puts Intel's plan at risk

Intel's hopes for its Ultrabook project - taking the technology it originally developed for Apple's MacBook Air and opening it out to the ODM/OEM community at large - risk floundering over its insistence on a premium price tag.

The Ultrabook project, announced by Intel during Computex in Taipei earlier this year, is a multi-phase plan aimed at producing ultra-slim, lightweight laptops that can compete on a level footing with Apple's popular MacBook Air.

It's something about which Intel is deadly serious: the company's investment arm has sunk millions into technologies that will help push the Ultrabook project forward, and the project already counts big names including Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba as supporters.

There's a certain amount of grumbling from manufacturers regarding the pricing of Intel's low-power Ultrabook-specific processors, however, with many companies unwilling to jump on the bandwagon until it can be proven that consumers will pay up to £1,000 for the ultra-slim devices produced under Intel's design guidelines.

With Intel aiming to capture the lion's share of the laptop market with Ultrabook-derived machines, that could prove an issue - doubly so when you learn that chip rival AMD is potentially looking to release some low-power parts of its own in direct competition to the Ultrabook project.

Although some analysts have predicted great things for Ultrabooks - including IHS iSuppli, which predicts that by 2015 Ultrabooks will account for 43 per cent of the laptop market - others are sounding warning bells.

Suji De Silva, an analyst at ThinkEquity, believes that Intel is pricing itself out of the competition. "If the cheapest ultrabook is $1,000, the switchover isn’t going to happen," De Silva told Bloomberg in an interview today. "They put a very ambitious goal out there."

While Apple's Ultrabook equivalent starts at $999 in the US, the company's products have always attracted a cult following and a sense of purchasing a 'premium' product that the likes of Lenovo and Asus struggle to match. Unless and until the price drops, Ultrabook makers could find their products hard to shift.

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