The 'Book Review

13" MacBook Air Demand, iPad Bringing an End to Laptop Era?, Ultrabooks to Save PC Makers?, and More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2011.08.26

General Apple and Mac desktop news is covered in Mac News Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion

Reviews

Tech Trends

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

High 13" MacBook Air Demand Leads to Price Gouging

AppleInsider's Sam Oliver reports that more than a month after introducing its latest-revision Thunderbolt MacBook Airs, Apple is unable to meet demand for the 13" model, which can be seen listed at prices as much as $200 to $300 above MSRP on at least one of the Internet's largest ecommerce sites.

Seems like a bit of a repeat, albeit not as severe, of the demand exceeding supply syndrome that kept the iPad 2 channels backlogged for months last spring and early summer.

Oliver notes that Apple's initial build projections for the new Airs had reportedly been weighted slightly in favor of the 11.6" models, suggesting Apple may have underestimated demand for the 13-incher, although he notes that nevertheless the company has been able to produce enough supply for its direct channels, although resellers wait.

This brings to mind what happened when Studebaker rolled out its 1953 models, which included the sublimely styled and years ahead of its time Raymond Loewy-designed Starliner coupe. Studebaker guessed that the more conservative and somewhat homely-looking four-door sedan version would sell better and tooled up for about an 80/20 split of sedan/coupe production. As it turned out, sales demand went more like 60/40, with buyers blown away by the beautiful two-door model. Production lines were hastily reconfigured to crank out more coupes.

Laptop Era Over? Apple to Sell 20 Million iPads Over the Holidays

Seeking Alpha's Jason Schwarz cites an acquaintance who says he used to take his laptop everywhere he went, but since buying an iPad a year ago, he has found that the only time his MacBook Air ever left his briefcase was when he had to take it out for airport security checkpoints, and it's gotten to the point where he hasn't taken the Air on a business trip in months. This individual contends that we now live in a Desktop/iPad world, and that "the era of the laptop is over."

Data supporting that point of view seems compelling, with market research firm DisplaySearch reporting that Apple shipped 13.5 million mobile PC units, representing year over year growth of 136%, 80% of which were iPads, and with notebook sales growth up only 2% year over year and actually down 2% compared to the first quarter 2011. Meanwhile, tablet PC shipments rose 70% in Q2 2011 and 400% year over year.

Schwartz also noted that market researcher Gartner reports a 20.4% decline of the mobile PC market in Western Europe during Q2 2011 as netbook shipments fell 53%.

In summary, Schwartz observes that Apple looks like the sole beneficiary of this new trend in mobile computing, citing the HP's TouchPad debacle - a spectacularly failed attempt to market a tablet to make up for weak laptop demand - and suggesting that if HP can't compete with Apple, who can?

Schwartz says that Apple competitors face the "brutal reality" that there is only one tablet to replace the laptop market, and that's the iPad, with a 75% market share according to ABI research. He predicts that Apple could sell as many as 21.9 million iPads in this year's holiday quarter.

Apple Switching Macs to ARM a Very Real and Scary Threat for Intel

Cult of Mac's Alex Heath and AppleInsider's Sam Oliver both note that while the long-standing rumor that Apple will eventually switch to its own proprietary A series of ARM-based chips in its MacBook and desktop machines is being viewed by Intel as a possibility that cannot be lightly dismissed, moving Macs to ARM-based architecture right now would be a total disaster, since the processing power is just not there yet - but that Apple's use of its A4 in the iPhone 4 and A5 in the iPad 2 demonstrates how successfully integrated software and hardware can work together. If Apple were to use its own chips in its internally designed hardware on its own software, the MacBook (and possibly iMac) would have a huge upper hand.

And a quad-core A6 chip is anticipated for next year, which could tip the power deficit issue. Oliver notes that an A6 chip, expected to debut with the iPad 3 in early 2012, has just entered trial production, though no details on its design have yet to surface.

Reviews

The Register Reviews 'Bloody Expensive' 17" MacBook Pro

The Register's Alistair Dabbs says the 17" Core "i" MacBook Pro is beautifully built notebook, slightly marred by its high cost and lack of ports, but it's no ordinary laptop. Rather, it's an exceptional one - a beautiful feat of engineering encased in a single piece of seamless aluminum, so as well as not collecting dust in cracks it doesn't have, the Pro doesn't creak or squeak when you pick it up, open and close it, balance it on your knees, and so on.

The 17" Pro is hardly the lightest notebook in the world, Dabbs observes, but it is perfectly weighted, and with the typical MacBook Pro razor-sharp screen quality, the safety-first MagSafe power connector, and the superb feel of the keyboard and trackpad all there in the latest 17" model too.

The main downside of this machine, says Dabbs, is that it's "bloody expensive," but nevertheless, no-one will convince him that it's money badly spent.

Tech Trends

Will Ultrabooks Save PC Makers?

TechCrunch's Matt Burns allows that while we may be in the post-PC era, the Windows PC is far from dead, with Intel and major PC makers toiling away at the next generation of PCs, that, if marketed correctly, could usher in the next golden age of computers.

That would be Intel Ultrabooks - essentially MacBook Air clones designed around a compact motherboard, CPU, and flash storage. Burns says the first crop of Ultrabooks is likely to use Intel's current Sandy Bridge CPUs, but the real fun will come when the 22nm Ivy Bridge models hit later this year for under a $1,000, and suggests that HP, which he says essentially exited the consumer PC realm last week, may have jumped ship a bit too soon.

Burns thinks Ultrabooks are exactly what the Windows world needs - ultraportable notebooks running "rock solid" Windows 7 should run perfectly fine, conceding that Apple had the foresight to see that mobile computers needed a shot of excitement, resulting in the MacBook Air and iPad, which are the major reasons why Apple dominated other players in Q2 2011, with 136% year-over-year growth in that segment and shipping 13.5 million mobile devices, but predicting that Ultrabooks will cause many consumers to give up their bully Windows notebook and join the true portable computer revolution.

Ultrabooks and Windows 8 to Drive Sales Momentum for Notebooks in 2012

DigiTimes' Aaron Lee and Steve Shen cite Simon Lin, chairman of Taiwan-based notebook ODM Wistron, predicting that the market launches of new thin-and-light PC notebooks based on Intel's Ultrabook specification and Microsoft's Windows 8 OS will be the notebook industry's growth drivers in 2012, estimating that Ultrabook shipments will account for 10-20% of Wistron's total notebook shipments next year. [Publisher's note: Wistron designs and manufactures computers for other companies.]

Lin also contends that economic turbulence due to debt European and US sovereign debt issues won't affect Wistron's 30 million notebook target for shipments in 2011 and anticipates that that the company's notebook shipments will maintain single-digit rate sequentially in the third and fourth quarters, although the target for mobile devices is being scaled down from 10-12 million units to nine million.

Cnet Talks Ultrabooks with Intel Exec

Cnet's Brooke Crothers reports that the first wave of superslim Ultrabook PC laptops are expected to be shipping in volume by the time the holiday season runup is underway, and earlier this week, Crothers spoke with Intel's Ultrabook group director Greg Welch to get a better idea of what an Ultrabook is.

Intel won't be manufacturing Ultrabooks itself, but will supply the core (no pun intended?) components. Welch describes the Ultrabook platform as "an initiative to advance the state of the art of the notebook experience across several years." The operative question, of course, and on which much hangs in the balance, is whether Ultrabook engineering can advance past - or at minimum match - that of Apple's pioneering segment-leader MacBook Air, especially in consumer perception.

Apple Dominance of Metal Notebook Chassis Fabrication Capacity Pushing Ultrabook Vendors to Fiberglass

DigiTimes' Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai report that Intel and its partner PC notebook brand vendors are beating the bushes to come up with new chassis construction materials, being as capacity for magnesium-aluminum chassis, the most popular choice for ultrabook designs, is mostly fully booked. Consequently, RHCM-based fiberglass chassis have emerged as the new top second choice among vendors, according to sources from chassis players.

Since ultrabooks are required to have a thickness of less than 0.8", the chassis need to be tough and rigid in order to sustain pressure and protect internal components and the logic board panel. Magnesium-aluminum construction a la Apple's unibody MacBooks is ideal, but it requires CNC lathes, whose capacity is significantly limited, and tooling for more is expensive, creating a high threshold for would-be competitors. DigiTimes notes that currently, Taiwan-based Catcher Technology and Foxconn Technology have more than 10,000 CNC lathes for metal chassis production, but both are contracted suppliers for Apple, so ultrabook players will be obliged to compete for what remaining capacity is available from the two firms, leaving players unable to fully ship enough devices.

That has convinced three PC brand vendors to adopt fiberglass for their ultrabooks, with Taiwan-based fiberglass chassis maker Mitac Precision offering a fiberglass chassis that is produced using the RHCM process and combined with plastic to purportedly provide toughness at a significantly cheaper cost compared with an magnesium-aluminum chassis, and a production yield rate currently greater than 90% facilitating monthly shipments of 4.5 million units.

Bargain 'Books

For deals on current and discontinued 'Books, see our 13" MacBook and MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, 13" MacBook Pro, 15" MacBook Pro, 17" MacBook Pro, 12" PowerBook G4, 15" PowerBook G4, 17" PowerBook G4, titanium PowerBook G4, iBook G4, PowerBook G3, and iBook G3 deals.

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