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4/12/2012
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Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Will $699 Tablets Win Over Enterprises?

Intel boasts that ultrabook prices will sink to $699 in the coming months, which puts them right in tablet territory. But they could get stuck in no-man's land between cheaper tablets and more powerful laptops.

10 Things Tablets Still Can't Do
10 Things Tablets Still Can't Do
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The "thin and light" laptop category used to be targeted at the boardroom. They were meant to provide business executives with functional and highly portable laptops, and were sometimes referred to as executive jewelry. They had staggering price points, which often climbed over $2000 or $3000. That was 10 years ago. Now, Intel is investing $300 million to drive laptop innovation and deliver affordable ultrabooks for all users.

Today, ultrabooks sell for about $800, but Intel believes the price will sink to a starting figure of $699 in time for the vital back-to-school buying season. The $699 price puts ultrabooks in price parity with tablets, which have starting prices closer to $500, but easily ramp up to $700 or $800 when features such as more storage or 3G/4G are added.

Both tablets and ultrabooks are thin, light, and portable. They offer vital business features, including email, contacts, and calendar integration. They also both promise good battery life and near-instant on. Ultrabooks and tablets offer vastly different user experiences, but Intel believes that will change.

[ Read Ultrabooks To Charm SMBs In 2012? ]

"I think we can deliver the best of a tablet, and the best in what (users) know in a notebook," said Kirk Skaugen, Intel general manager for the PC Client group. It doesn't hurt that some of the upcoming crop of ultrabooks will include touch displays that will be compatible with Windows 8.

In order to raise awareness of ultrabooks' use case, Intel plans a massive campaign. It will set up special displays in retail stores that stand apart from the other laptops. The devices will need to be thin, and offer fast start times. "In order to be compliant to that section, you have to meet a series of tests that Intel is putting in the market place," explained Skaugen. "Intel plans to ensure Ultrabooks have a consistent experience. And if it's too thick it won't be called an Ultrabook. It won't be allowed to be called an Ultrabook because Ultrabook is a trademark of Intel and we can protect the trademark."

Tablets are already highly visible, thanks in no small part to Apple's iPad. Google is also making noise about bringing a low-cost Android tablet to market.

With corporate warriors to arm, however, IT needs to choose wisely when it comes time to equip the workforce. Which is the better business tool? As with many things, that depends highly on what the workforce's needs are. While tablets are capable of running spreadsheet, presentation, and publishing software, editing Excel sheets on a tablet is a form of torture I'd wish on no one. IT needs to consider lifetime cost, connectivity issues, security (device, and on-device data), and many other factors before making purchasing decisions.

Though I love tablets and use them daily, there are a number of aspects of my job that I simply can't perform on a tablet. I need a laptop for processing/editing photos and video, and I type a heck of a lot faster on a full, physical keyboard than I do on a virtual glass keyboard. I suspect I am not the only professional who can't relegate all my computing tasks to a tablet.

It really comes down to deciding where tablets fit in the corporate strategy. Are they vital, can they replace laptops, or are they not (yet) functional enough? Sure, they handle the basics with no problem, but many advanced tasks require the power and hardware tools offered by a real computer.

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