Tech Industry

The ugly truth: Apple vs. PC design

commentary The PC world still hasn't come up with an awesome design to challenge the iPad. The clock's ticking.

The PC world doesn't have anything like the iPad Mini. That's a problem. Just ask Intel.

Walk into any Best Buy and you're hit with an ugly truth: PCs aren't pretty.

A 15-inch HP Windows 8 laptop that sells for $270 (Best Buy's "Deal of the Day" on Saturday) isn't meant to be pretty. It's meant to be practical.

But a $330 iPad Mini is also very practical for a lot of people. And pretty too (consumers and reviewers seem to think so). Pretty and practical are two reasons Apple can sell tens of millions of Minis.

Why bring this up? I was struck by a statement from an Intel executive at the chipmaker's London Analyst Summit this week. He was speaking about why consumers aren't upgrading their PCs at the rate they did before and, instead, opting to purchase tablets.

"We haven't had products in the marketplace that were compelling in any way...from a form factor point of view," he said.

That's brutal honesty coming from the general manager of Intel's Mobile Client Platform division.

The PC world isn't very good at giving you both price and pulchritude.

HP is getting close, with the $600 Envy x2 tablet-laptop hybrid. But not close enough on price. And while Acer's $400 Iconia W510 tablet is cheap, it's hardly an iPad Mini.

Even at higher prices, Apple design is hard to beat. The MacBook Air, when it debuted in 2008, changed laptop design almost singlehandedly. And it's still very popular, starting at $1,000.

There are PCs that can compete with the Air, of course. The Acer Aspire S7 touch-screen ultrabook is attractive and has been well received. And ditto for Dell's XPS 13.

But so far there's been no "form factor," as the Intel executive put it, that can compete with the iPad.

Here's a suggestion: A $400 Surface packing Intel's upcoming quad-core Bay Trail system-on-a-chip. Or even better, $300. That would shake things up. I'm sure readers can think of a lot more ideas.

A less expensive Microsoft Surface tablet with new Intel chips could reset the market.
A less expensive Microsoft Surface tablet with new Intel chips could reset the market. CNET