HP, Dell Chase Apple’s ‘Fashionista’ Buyers With Ultrabooks

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) and Dell (DELL) Inc. are unveiling slim “ultrabook” laptops at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, stepping up competition with Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s MacBook Air.

Hewlett-Packard introduced a $1,400 laptop yesterday called the Envy 14 Spectre, which packs a 14-inch screen into a compact chassis encased in black. Dell, meanwhile, is showing its own take on the ultrabook -- an industry term created by Intel Corp. for light, thin laptops.

Personal-computer makers are counting on ultrabooks to challenge the MacBook Air, Apple’s best-selling laptop, which is less than an inch thick. Still, Hewlett-Packard isn’t trying to compete on price: The new Spectre is $100 more than a MacBook Air with a 13.3-inch screen. Hewlett-Packard is emphasizing the laptop’s premium features and design, a bid to reach the “savvy fashionista” market, said Page Murray, a vice president of marketing at the company.

“There’s always someone who wants to win the race to the bottom,” Murray said. “It usually ends with a splat.”

The Spectre features a glossy black-glass lid that sits atop a silver glass palm rest and finger-sensing pad. The computer has an extra-bright screen, enhanced Beats Audio sound and a version of Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE)’s Photoshop software.

Battery Life

It weighs less than four pounds and can run for nine hours on one charge, Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard said. The Spectre goes on sale Feb. 8.

Dell’s new ultrabook, called the XPS 13, starts at $999. It’s made of aluminum, carbon fiber and glass, and sports a 13.3-inch screen. The laptop, which weighs less than three pounds and gets eight hours of battery life, will go on sale in late February.

Vizio Inc. also is showing ultra-thin laptops at the electronics conference. The company is pushing into the PC market after shaking up the television industry with its rock- bottom prices.

For Intel, ultrabooks are an attempt to keep laptops relevant in an era when many people use handheld devices to surf the Web. While Intel (INTC) is the world’s largest chipmaker, it has struggled to get its products into tablets and smartphones, which use processors based on designs from ARM Holdings Plc. (ARM)

Voice Commands

Beside defining specifications for ultrabooks’ size and performance, Intel is taking additional steps to make the machines more compelling. Intel and Nuance Communications Inc. said yesterday they will develop software that lets ultrabook users control the machines with voice commands. Nuance’s Dragon software would let ultrabook users send e-mail, launch programs, and play music and video content, Nuance said in a statement.

Even so, ultrabooks will have to be priced right to be successful, Jason Maynard, an analyst at Wells Fargo & Co. in San Francisco, said yesterday in a report.

“They will need to be priced significantly below the MacBook Air,” he said.

Hewlett-Packard isn’t taking that tack with the Spectre, though it previously released a lower-cost ultrabook for business users called the HP Folio. That model, which has a 13.3-inch screen and weighs 3.3 pounds, went on sale Dec. 7 at a starting price of $900.

Shares of Hewlett-Packard, the world’s largest PC maker, rose less than 1 percent today to $26.69 in New York trading. Round Rock, Texas-based Dell climbed 1.6 percent to $15.82.

The PC industry is also waiting for the release of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 8 operating system, which will enhance notebooks’ touch-screen capabilities. Microsoft plans to release the first broadly available test version of Windows 8 in late February.

Microsoft said today that PC sales may have missed estimates in the fourth quarter, hurt by flooding in Thailand, which disrupted disk-drive production.

To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Ricadela in San Francisco at aricadela@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net

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