HP is taking this whole Ultrabook thing pretty darn seriously. After launching the Folio business Ultrabook last November and the Envy Spectre high-end model in January, it’s back with another Folio and three additional Envy Ultrabooks. It’s also introducing a concept called Sleekbooks — which are, basically, Ultrabooks that dare not speak their name.
The EliteBook Folio 9470m — is anyone who buys this thing going to remember what it’s called? — is a 3.6-pound Ultrabook with a 14″ display, an Intel Core vPro processor, and various features designed to please IT people in large companies. (It won’t ship until October and pricing hasn’t been set yet.) The Envy Spectre XT is a 3.07-pound model with a 13.3″ screen; like the earlier Spectre, it emphasizes style and has Beats audio, but it begins at a less daunting $999.99. And there will also be a $749.99 14″ Envy Ultrabook and a $799.99 15.6″ one.
And what’s a Sleekbook? It’s an HP Ultrabook-like thin-and-light laptop that can’t be called an Ultrabook, in some cases because it uses an AMD processor. (Ultrabook is an Intel trademark; all Ultrabooks are therefore Intel machines, by definition.) Those include a $699.99 14″ model and a $599.99 15.6″ one.
As CNET’s Dan Ackerman points out, HP is also introducing a $699 notebook called the Pavilion M6 that’s neither an Ultrabook nor a Sleekbook, but is a close cousin; he calls it a “fauxtrabook.”
Except for the Folio, all these systems will roll out on various dates this month and next.
By releasing so many models, HP will end up with an Ultrabook, a Sleekbook or a “fauxtrabook” for almost everybody: you’ll be able to get ‘em in three different screen sizes, with a hard disk or solid-state storage and in versions with different features aimed at business types and enthusiasts — and at a bevy of price points. It’s the most sweeping commitment that any PC company has made to thin-and-light laptops yet.
It also shows that treating Ultrabooks as a category of computer, distinct from other notebooks, is pointless. On one hand, the definition of Ultrabook is so fungible that HP can release a bunch of machines that don’t have all that much in common except that they qualify for the label. On the other, it’s specific enough that HP had to manufacture the Sleekbook concept to encompass models which no rational observer would argue are fundamentally different from Ultrabooks. And both Ultrabooks and Sleekbooks look much like some computers that are neither Ultrabooks nor Sleekbooks.
When Intel came up with the Ultrabook tag, it was presumably trying to inject some pizzazz into PC marketing by suggesting that these systems are something radically new. It’s pushing the concept so hard that when I went to a movie last weekend, it was preceded with this ad:
Ultrabooks are nothing fundamentally new. They’re just the latest gloss on thin-and-light portables, a category that dates at least as far back as DEC’s HiNote. Maintaining that they’re something else just confuses matters, especially when some Ultrabook-like computers don’t qualify as Ultrabooks for reasons that consumers shouldn’t need to care about.
It’s a strikingly different approach than Apple has taken with the MacBook Air. It always emphasizes that the Air, despite being thinner and lighter and smaller-screened than most laptops, is, indeed, a full-fledged laptop — “the ultimate everyday notebook,” in fact.
I don’t mean to sound anti-Ultrabook; actually, I’m glad that Intel is goading PC manufacturers in this direction. A few years from now, I suspect, almost all garden-variety notebooks will look like today’s Ultrabooks. We’ll be better for it.
But I’ll bet you anything that no real-world consumers will call them Ultrabooks. They’ll call them notebooks. So will the industry. Why not start now?