Ultrabooks: Repeating the Mazda mistake, or why Surface Tablets are just the start

intel ultrabook laptop notebookIntel bet heavily on Ultrabooks but recent numbers suggest this class of product is underperforming while MacBooks and iPads sell just fine. I think a lot of us figured that IT would be inundated with requests for these new sleek products, but that just didn’t happen.

Intel is repeating a mistake that Mazda made a few years back, but the analogy also suggests a possible solution.

The Mazda mistake

Do you remember the Mazda Amati? Of course not! It was to be the equivalent of the Toyota Lexus and the Nissan Infiniti but Mazda came up with an idea: why not come out with a Millenia line to compete with the Lexus and Infiniti, but save money by using the Mazda dealerships? If you don’t remember the Millenia, that’s because people didn’t buy it.

You see, no one buys a Lexus, Infiniti, or Acura because they wanted a cheap luxury car. They buy them because they want the status and service of a Rolls Royce at a far more affordable cost. The experience was as important as the product. Mazda didn’t get that, so the Millenia failed where Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura succeed. A major aspect of the sale is status, and Lexus provides much more than Toyota does — even though the cars are actually very similar.

MacBooks vs. Ultrabooks

Apple makes premium products, both in terms of price and in surrounding services. You get personal support that is largely unmatched by any other brand, and you generally receive a richer end-to-end experience. Even the way the stores are laid out is more in line with a jewelry store than a Best Buy. Better presentation, better service, and a brand that is consistent with luxury and exclusivity.

Dell does have the XPS line and HP some Envy products, but like the Millenia, they don’t come with the rest of the services. And neither line has the breadth that Apple has. With Apple, you basically have a Lexus operation; while the Ultrabooks match in appearance and price, they can’t approach the rest of the experience.

microsoft store inside apple store hp dell windows retailMicrosoft did try to match the Apple store experience, but here you see the product shortfall. At Lexus they don’t sell high-priced cars branded Toyota, but at Microsoft stores they sell high-priced laptops branded Dell and HP.

So while there are Microsoft stores that can match Apple’s, and products (Ultrabooks) that can match Apple’s, they haven’t been brought together to create the experience the buyer wants.

Either Ultrabooks need to be far cheaper, and more consistent with the Toyota market that most PC sells in or they need to provide the full Lexus/Apple experience. Doing neither, they actually sold better than they should have.

Wrapping up: Surface Tablets now, Surface Laptops coming

The launch of the Surface Tablets shows that Microsoft finally understands that to make the stores work they need to have products consistent with the experience, and you probably can’t do that selling products branded by someone else. But I should point out that I have seen Lamborghini dealerships selling Maybachs — suggesting that if there were another luxury brand that didn’t have stores, it likely could successfully be sold in Apple stores — or future Microsoft premium stores.

That means that if Dell, HP, Lenovo, or anyone else came up with a true premium brand, it might work in the Microsoft store model. But the execution would have to significantly exceed anything we have yet seen. And if these firms don’t want Microsoft to go into laptops, they might want to consider this alternative. You see, I think the Surface Tablets are only the first step. If they are successful, Microsoft will have re-proven the Lexus lesson. Laptops, all-in-one PCs, and smartphones will surely follow.

Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

How the headphone jack helps Samsung out-Apple the king

Samsung’s latest flagship phones and wearables unveiled at the Galaxy Unpacked event had plenty of exciting new tech. But one of the most useful features Samsung revealed is also the oldest: The mighty headphone jack.
Computing

You won't want to miss these deals on some of the best laptops around

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we have you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Cars

Bored with stock? The best tuner cars are begging to be modified

Modification has been around almost as long as the automobile itself. Here are 25 of the best tuner cars you can find, ranging from American muscle standouts to Japanese drift cars.
Product Review

You won't buy Microsoft's Surface Hub 2S, but it could still change your life

The Microsoft Surface Hub 2S wants to change the way you collaborate at work. That’s a lofty goal most devices fail to achieve, but the unique Hub 2S could be an exception. And trust us – you’re going to want it.
Trash

In 2019, laptops are better than ever. Here are the best of the best

The best laptop should be one that checks all the boxes: Great battery life, beautiful design, and top-notch performance. Our picks for the best laptops you can buy do all that — and throw in some extra features while they're at it.
Gaming

Age of Empires II thrives 20 years later. Here's what Anthem could learn from it

Age Of Empires II is approaching its 20th birthday. It has a loyal following that has grown over the past five years. New always-online games like Anthem would love to remain relevant for so long, but they have a problem. They're just not…
Smart Home

Alexa may be everywhere, but it’s Google’s Assistant I want in my home. Here’s why

The Amazon Alexa may have the Google Home beat in quantity of skills and compatibility with other products, but does that really matter when Alexa falls flat for day-to-day conversation?
Gaming

Devil May Cry is Fantastic, but I still want a DmC: Devil May Cry sequel

Capcom's Devil May Cry 5 is one of the best games of 2019 and a welcome return for the series, but its success should not discount just how wonderful Ninja Theory's DmC: Devil May Cry really was.
Gaming

DMC 5’s greatness is a reminder of all the open world games that wasted my time

Devil May Cry 5 modernizes the stylish action combat while retaining its storied PS2 roots. More so, though, it reminded me that we could sure use more linear, single player games to combat the sea of open world games.
Gaming

Don't get the hype over Fortnite? Let us change your mind

Fortnite arrived very quietly but after launching Battle Royale mode it became a cultural phenomenon. Today, Fortnite is one of the most content prolific online games and it's starting to change the meta.
Mobile

Hey Google, why did you kill off Allo, your best messaging app in years?

Allo, Google's messaging app, has shut down. I convinced my closest friends and family to switch to the app two-and-a-half years ago when it debuted, and we've been using it since. With its death, I'm feeling pain and sadness.
Mobile

Apple’s new iPads are hardly new at all. Don’t waste your money

It has taken Apple four years to get around to updating the iPad Mini line, but the new iPad Mini is virtually identical to its predecessor. It’s joined by a confusing iPad Air with no obvious target audience. Is Apple just trying to sell…
Home Theater

There isn’t a single good reason to buy Apple’s new AirPods

After nearly a three-year wait, Apple has finally announced a new version of its popular true wireless headphones, the AirPods. We had high hopes for vast improvements, but that's not what we got.
Gaming

The Division 2 offers nothing but a funhouse mirror of America

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 improves on the design shortcomings of the original game in several different ways, but its version of Washington D.C. is completely removed from reality.