Hewlett-Packard Wants Apple's Secret Sauce

The contest is over, and the verdict is in: Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) has won the tablet wars. (By default. And perhaps only temporarily.) But what about the product that originally made Apple great? What's going on with Apple's computers?

A few years back, as you may recall, Apple made one of its great leaps forward in style, form, and function when it created the MacBook Air. A couple generations on, the Air is still one of the prettiest laptops out there, standing just 1.7 centimeters tall in its aluminum uni-body shell, weighing less than three pounds, and packed to the gills with flash memory.

It also costs a pretty penny. The base model 11-inch Air sells for $999, with prices ranging as high as $1599 for a 13.3-inch model. And if you suspect high prices mean high profit margins for Apple, well...you're not alone. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) sees real profit potential in the Air...and Hewlett wants a piece of it.

Last week, in the course of announcing its decision to hold onto its PC division, HP dropped a hint as to its intentions for Apple: "Ultramobile is a notebook category of sub-17 millimeter notebooks. We're very focused on having a suite in that ultramobile space. And you'll see that very soon."

And not just from HP. Dell's (Nasdaq: DELL  ) supposedly working on a new Air-analog as well. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) just opened up a $300 million war chest to help manufacturers develop competing products. So it's turning out to be a popular idea. Market researcher Digitimes predicts ultrabooks will make up as much as 25% of the global laptop market by the end of next year.

Now, how many of these comps will bear the Apple logo? I suspect quite a lot of them, since historically, Apple has controlled a 25% market share in PCs exactly...never. There's a lot of room in the category for Windows users hungry for ultra-slim laptops with long battery lives. But figuring out who will capture the bulk of the market is hard to say right now. What I do know is that the companies supplying flash memory to the PC makers -- firms like SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK  ) , Micron (Nasdaq: MU  ) , and STEC (Nasdaq: STEC  ) -- are likely to make out like bandits.

After all, because they lack hard drives, high-end Airs pack as much as 256 gigabytes worth flash memory. If rival ultrabooks boast similar numbers, and if they do indeed grow to constitute 25% of the laptop market, this argues in favor of explosive growth for the memory suppliers.

Will Hewlett-Packard's venture into ultra-lite PC-ing work out any better than its attempt to invade Apple's tablet PC market? Add HP to your Fool Watchlist and find out.

Fool contributor Rich Smith puts his money where his mouth is: He owns shares of SanDisk and Micron (but not STEC). You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 320 out of more than 180,000 members. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Intel. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Dell, and Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Intel.

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Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (4)

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  • Report this Comment On November 04, 2011, at 12:18 AM, chadscards1274 wrote:

    Just a few observations, first there is a big difference in the amount of space that OS Lion takes on a hard drive versus Windows 7. This is one consideration when you're dealing with ultrabooks with sometimes only 64 GB of hard drive space. Secondly, even the MacBook Air doesn't have great battery life in particular on the 11" model. It's likely that a PC version would fare even worse. Last, look at the companies that have tried to make a thin light ultrabook none have engendered the praise and sales that the MacBook Air has.

  • Report this Comment On November 04, 2011, at 3:44 AM, kpbpsw wrote:

    Apple does control somewhere around 25% of non-enterprize computers in the US and I believe more of the over $1000 price point computers.

    And if you include iPads they are neck an neck with HP on units total.

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