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Retail sales of pricey ultrabooks up, vie with MacBook

High-end ultrabooks sales are up, seemingly defying conventional wisdom that the skinny laptops need to be cheap to catch on.

Like the MacBook Air, the HP Envy Spectre XT ultrabook starts at $999.
Like the MacBook Air, the HP Envy Spectre XT ultrabook starts at $999.

Sales of pricey ultrabooks are up at retailers, a market research firm said, indicating that skinny laptops may be competing directly with Apple's MacBook line.

First, the bad news: the overall Windows market for notebook PC sales at retail fell by 17 percent in the first five months of the year, according to Stephen Baker, an NPD Group analyst, who published a research note Thursday.

The good news: sales of ultrabooks -- thin, light laptops that compete with the MacBook Air -- are up in the premium market segment.

Those priced at more than $900 jumped 39 percent compared with last year, Baker said.

This trend has established "a market for more premium-priced Windows notebooks at retail," he said in a statement.

Selling prices averaged $927 over the first five months of 2012, Baker said, falling squarely into MacBook pricing territory.

But is this short-lived? Will ultrabook prices now begin heading south? "As we head into the crucial back-to-school selling season, lower-cost Ultrabooks, some as low as $699, will be the hot form factor," Baker added.

Ah, but there's Windows 8 on the horizon. "As we look towards the fourth quarter, the expected launch of Windows 8, a wide variety of Ultrabooks with touch screens, and convertible form factors should...provide a much needed revenue boost to the entire PC ecosystem," according to Baker.

Ultrabook share of $700+ Windows notebooks. The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service