Wednesday, January 18, 2012

MacBook Air sales rise as ultrabook market heats up

(Credit: Apple)

Apple may have sold as many as 1.2 million MacBook Airs last quarter as its competition tries to pounce on the burgeoning ultrabook market.

The estimated 1.2 million in unit sales was a small leap from the 1 million sold in the third quarter. But Apple was the only vendor that didn't see a drop in overall notebook sales between the two quarters, according to a report from DigiTimes.

Hit by the sluggish economy and a shortage of hard drives, fourth-quarter notebook shipments around the world dropped by 8.7 percent to 48.59 million in the fourth quarter, sources told DigiTimes. Asus took the worst hit with a 12.4 percent decline in sales, while Lenovo was the second-hardest-hit vendor, both hurt by the low supply of disk drives.

Undaunted and hoping to catch a bit of the Apple magic, a slew of vendors are unveiling new ultrabooks at CES this week. But to compete with the MacBook Air, many companies are striving to distinguish their products and carve out their own niche of this growing market.

HP is touting its Envy 14 Spectre, the company's first consumer-oriented ultrabook and one that sports a unique finish covered in Corning's durable and scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.

Samsung is trying to wow the CES crowd with its refreshed Series 9. Initially on display at last year's CES, the Series 9 has lost some weight and now boasts a 1,600x900-pixel resolution display. Available in both 13.3-inch and 15.6-inch models, the notebook will reach consumers starting February 27.

Acer is showing off its 14-inch and 15-inch Timeline ultrabooks, designed to be thinner than the company's last-generation models, according to DigiTimes. Acer is also reportedly cooking up a 15-inch ultrabook that will sell for $699. Company Chairman J.T. Wang recently pointed to $699 as the right price point to increase sales volumes for ultrabooks.

Not to be outdone, Lenovo is promoting its IdeaPad U310 and U410 thin and lightweight laptops. The company is also targeting business users with its T430u ultrabook, a unit powered by Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge processor. Due in the third quarter of the year, the 14-inch T430u will sell for $849.

The new Ivy Bridge chip will power other ultrabooks slated for release later this year, including Apple's MacBook lineup. As a result, Apple rivals will need to compete on price and features more than on power. Most vendors are expected to price their ultrabooks $50 to $100 below that of the MacBook Air, which starts at $999, noted DigiTimes.

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