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.

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