Apple cornering the market on light laptops

In the eternal PC versus Mac struggle, Apple has a stranglehold on the ultraportable laptop market--and may be repeating the kind of success it had with tablets.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

For now, Apple has a vise-grip on ultraportables like it has on tablets.

With the company on track to sell well over 10 million Airs this year, it may well see the product ultimately become its bestselling laptop. And the company will only accelerate this trend when it brings out a larger ultraslim model, which, for all intents and purposes, will also be a MacBook Air.

Samsung with the Series 9 is the only big-time, high-profile PC competitor in the Air's price range right now. The rest is rumor and marketing promises, under the banner of "Ultrabook."

Consumers, generally speaking, buy Windows laptops by the hundreds of millions globally every year because they're relatively inexpensive and run all of the most popular applications. Not because they're ultraslim and/or ultralight. In other words, PC laptops are the practical buy. A $1,199 Air or a $699 HP Pavilion? You do the math.

And, by the way, that's OK with Intel, HP, Toshiba, and others because that keeps the PC franchise alive and kicking.

Problem is, Apple has become a mobile device juggernaut. So, if it's more or less a zero-sum game, Apple's post-PC devices will continue to take share away from the diminishing PC juggernaut by bringing, for example, young buyers into the more profitable (for Apple) MacBook Air fold.

Gartner's numbers offer a good snapshot of PC market trends. Apple shows a big positive growth number in the U.S.
Gartner's numbers offer a good snapshot of PC market trends. Apple shows a big positive growth number in the U.S. Gartner

Call it PC versus Mac, the Ultrabook edition. A possible result: Apple is the only device maker selling large numbers of the new breed of powerful, Sandy Bridge-based, sub-3-pound ultraportables, aka Ultrabooks. As is the case with the current tablet market, consumers will look to Apple for ultraslim post-PC designs but continue to choose--in diminishing proportions relative to Apple--HP and Dell for the traditional computing paradigm.

Which brings us to Dell. For now, the No.2 U.S. supplier of PCs has nothing in the consumer market to compete with the MacBook Air. After abandoning the well-crafted, well-designed MBA challenger, the Adamo, Dell went to a completely different market segment, with the XPS 15z. It's relatively slim, but it's not small and certainly not portable like an Air.

That leaves us, for now, with Samsung and the upcoming Asus UX21 and UX31 (not shipping yet) as the most notable challengers to the Air.

Will they sell in the tens of million like the Air? I could easily answer that question, but I'll defer to Acer's founder Stan Shih and let him speak for the PC guys. "The fads for Ultrabooks and tablet PCs are both short-term phenomena," according to Shih. That sounds like a concession speech to me.