The new Acer Aspire S3 and the "Ultrabook" notebook category are all about reclaiming the initiative for notebooks in the face of the onslaught from tablets.
When it became evident Apple' iPad was cutting into sales of notebooks and particularly netbooks, notebook makers knew they needed to respond in force. The inspiration, ironically, came from Apple's MacBook Air, Steve Job's unique take on the notebook, a razor-thin machine that had put "sexy" back into notebooks.
The result is a new category of razor-thin notebooks called the Ultrabooks, and yesterday, Acer announced the first one to be released on the Australian market, the 13.3in Acer Aspire S3 (pictured above), a sliver of aluminium/magnesium alloy that’s 13 mm thick and weighs less than 1.35 kg. In that form factor it offers the choice of Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processors and a 240GB SSD or 320GB HDD, plus an embedded 1GB solid state drive for ultra-fast access. The screen has a resolution of 1366x768 pixels.
In other words, it’s one hell of an ultraportable. As Aaron Jambrovic, Product Manager for Consumer Notebook, Acer Computer Australia, said, " We’ve taken the essential features from smartphones and tablet PCs, such as fast startup and Internet connectivity, and a slim form to provide a fresh experience.”
That’s exactly what Ultrabooks are about – while they may not be competing directly against tablets, they embody the lessons learnt from the success of the tablet, which are essentially that consumers don’t want technology to be a chore. They don’t want to wait minutes for a notebook to start and resume, they don’t want to wait several seconds for an internet connection to start, and don’t want to lug around something that weighs 2.kgs or more. Ultrabooks may give consumers reason to pause and ask whether their next computer should be a notebook instead of a tablet.
The Ultrabook is really the end result of a campaign co-ordinated and marshalled by Intel to get the notebook makers to see the light. Until Jobs' MacBook Air came along, most notebooks were really not that different to the business boxes that launched the laptop revolution many years ago. In fact, Intel has even issued a required spec for the Ultrabooks. To qualify as one, the machine has to have the following:
- An Intel 2nd Generation Core Processor
- Thin/light design. Less than 21 mm thick.
- Ultra-fast start up (using Intel Rapid Start Technology, which gets system up and running faster from sleep mode).
- Extended battery life - at least 5 hours even in the sleekest form factors, but ideally around 8 hours.
- Security enabled - with Bios/Firmware enabled to expose hardware features for Intel Anti-Theft Technology and Intel Identity Protection Technology.
The Aspire S3 has incorporated these. In addition to the required form factor and processors, it has its own labels other Ultrabook requirements. It calls the Ultra-fast startup "Acer Green Instant On" (from Sleep the Aspire S3 will resume in 1.5 seconds and from Deep Sleep in 6 seconds). There's also a feature called "Acer Instant Connect" which is claimed to let you connect to the Internet in just 2.5 seconds (about four times faster than conventional connections). We weren't able to test the machine at the launch in Sydney yesterday so we have to just take Acer's word for it.
But when it comes to appearances at least, the Aspire S3 (pictured) is a stunner. Like the ASUS UX21 (about to be announced formally in Australia) it shows traditional notebook makers are realising what Apple - and recently Samsung with its Series 9 notebook - have known for some time, that design and style is paramount when wanting to reach consumers.
When you launch a new technology, the first audience to comment on it are the tech opinion-makers (the assorted journalists, bloggers, analysts and so on). And yesterday, at the Australian launch of the Acer S3, Acer struggled to win them over when it came to its optimism about the likely impact of the machine on the market. The issue was not the product, but the pricing.
When it goes on sale in Australia in October, the Aspire S3 will start at $1,199 and range up to $2,099. The feeling among the tech media was that the pricing is not aggressive enough for the Acer Ultrabook to make a big impact with consumers, particularly for a category whose unstated objective is to stem the drift from notebooks to tablets. Secondly, Ultrabooks pay a price for their dimensions: they carry low-voltage versions of the Intel processors, so will users want to sacrifice full Intel Core power for portability and looks? Thirdly, was this really a new category of notebook, or just a better looking and more capable bunch of ultraportables?
In other words there was scepticism that Ultrabooks would shake the market like, say, tablets did. But in my experience, techies don’t always get it right. In fact, they can get it spectacularly wrong when it comes to judging consumer sentiment. We saw that last year in the blogosphere's first reactions to the iPad. It was too expensive, didn't have enough power, not enough ports, yada yada - and yet, no computing technology has made a bigger impact on consumers since the iPhone.
We may see the same with the Ultrabooks. Consumers may take to new computers which have more than enough power to do the things they can’t do on an iPad (for instance, serious content creation, such video editing ) but are almost as thin, turn on and resume nearly as fast, and whose battery life lasts nearly as long. And that’s not to mention the design. The Acer Aspire S3 and the ASUS UX21 make all other notebook designs obsolete. The Ultrabook may be about to change notebooks forever.
Stay tuned for our special coverage of Ultrabooks today.
We have a number of stories to mark the arrival of this major new category of notebook.