Yesterday, to much fanfare and resolute sentiment, HP announced a return to what made it a great company to begin with: poorly-named and generic computing devices tarted up to take on Dell. This year it’s the HP Envy SpectreXT, a thin and light that can’t officially be called an Ultrabook because that’s an Intel marketing term and these things sometimes run on AMD chips.
I think it’s important to point out the clear problems in the above statement: because Intel officially controls the “ultrabook” spec – including the pricing, screen size, speed, and physical size – manufacturers must toe the line when it comes to what can and cannot be sold under that rubric. In short, Intel’s own standards have so long stymied the OEM’s ability to innovate that, in the end, we’re all essentially buying Intel PCs no matter the brand or maker.
Why is this an important distinction? Because for years hardware has been stymied by ridiculous size standards. From the early “Windows” tablets – which had to follow Intel’s exacting guidelines – to today’s Ultrabooks, manufacturers can’t make a penny without kowtowing to Intel. What’s more, they don’t get any of Intel’s marketing might if they don’t produce at least one of a family of devices.
The same thing happens over at Microsoft . Remember when, in 2010, it seemed everyone was making one touchscreen PC? Sony? Dell? HP? Well it wasn’t because they were totally into touchscreen. It was because Microsoft wanted to push touchscreen Windows interaction onto the audience and they could use their might to force at least one SKU from each manufacturer.
Could HP fight back? Probably not. They make all their money on ink anyway, and hardware is a loss leader. In short, the PC industry is a perfect example of trickle-down economics.
There are obviously a number of smaller players who don’t toe the line, including Apple, but in general if you want to appear in the Best Buy circulars and get special bulk deals on chips and operating systems, you’d better be willing to go Ultrabook or Centrino or whatever other standard the binary star of Intel and Microsoft encourages makers to follow. The odds – and profit – are forever in Intel’s favor.