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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 But what about the product that originally made Apple great?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.