HP's recent summer launch event proved to be one of the biggest in the company's long history. Despite that, a few things slipped under the radar, including HP's new Ultrabook rival, the Sleekbook. An invention of HP and HP alone, can further dividing the market really be a good thing?
When Apple launched the updated MacBook Airs back in late 2010, the whole industry sat up and took note. That line was impressively thin before, but it came at a cost - the computers were overly expensive and too slow by far, with mediocre build quality and heating and battery life issues. The update changed all of that - a $999 introductory price, solid build quality, a new 11-inch model and, despite the aging processors, reasonable performance (thanks in no small part to the use of modern flash memory).
Intel was especially interested. They saw this new notebook form factor as a means to reinvigorate the struggling PC industry, and the Ultrabook category was born. The PC maker shoved $300 million into a special fund available to PC makers in order to help with Ultrabook initiatives, marketing, and so on. Intel retained rights to the Ultrabook name, however, and if someone like HP, Dell, or ASUS wanted access, they had to cede an unprecedented amount of control over their product design to the processor giant.
It's very similar to the way Microsoft has pushed phone makers to adopt a stringent set of standards if they want access to the company's Windows Phone OS - pushed by Apple, too, it's worth noting, but in an entirely different product market. In this case, for an OEM to call their notebook an Ultrabook, they have to abide by specific guidelines:
The figures aren't public, and manufacturers aren't always willing to disclose them to consumers or press - still, some Ultrabooks can actually be much thicker than the above, if they offer specific characteristics, like optical drives or convertible tablet options.
All of this adds up to the fact that the Ultrabook message has quickly become muddled and mixed - they're really just the new premium notebook, with thicker models relegated to either the gaming or budget markets. HP is looking to dilute that ideal even more, for better or for worse - enter the Sleekbook.
The Sleekbook, unlike the Ultrabook, has no specific characteristics required to receive the Sleekbook name. In HP's words, the new Sleekbook lineup will basically be "Ultrabook-like" models that, for one reason or another, can't qualify as Ultrabooks under the Intel guidelines.
So what sort of things would disqualify a computer from being an Intel-branded Ultrabook? The new laptop might be thin, but slightly too thick. It might use exclusively hard drive storage (Ultrabooks need flash memory / SSDs, remember).
Of course, the real ringer is that Ultrabooks CAN NOT employ AMD processors. Depending on how successful the Ultrabook marketing push is, that could be a real problem for AMD; if consumers go into a store and ask for an Ultrabook, they will by definition not see an AMD computer. HP's Sleekbooks, however, could meet every one of Ultrabook qualifications, and use cheaper AMD CPUs - meaning they get an Ultrabook experience at a reduced price.
What HP really should do is approach AMD about a joint Sleekbook partnership - HP gets exclusive rights to the name for the next 6 months to a year or so, and AMD agrees to funnel some money into R&D and/or marketing. Then, AMD would have a Sleekbook platform ready to compete against Intel for the next notebook war - a war that AMD, which hasn't made any serious efforts to get its chips into tablets or smartphones - absolutely cannot afford to lose.
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