Besting Apple's MacBook Air, iPad: 10 Things Competitors Must Do

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2011-06-01

Besting Apple's MacBook Air, iPad: 10 Things Competitors Must Do

If there is any constant in the mobile-computing market, it's that Apple will continue to dish out high-quality, appealing devices each year. It did so with the launch of the first iPad last year and the iPad 2 earlier this year. And on the lightweight notebook front, the company's MacBook Air continues to be the benchmark by which all other products are judged. Apple is simply the gold standard for how to be successful in today's mobile marketplace.

But there are many competitors in the wild that want to change that. Motorola, Samsung and Google have been trying their luck at beating Apple in the tablet space. At the Computex show on May 31, Intel unveiled a new product category it calls Ultrabooks that it believes could be the perfect answer for consumers looking for lightweight notebooks, including Apple's MacBook Air.

However, all those companies and the many others that are trying to take Apple down a notch need to do much more if they are going to gain ground against the popular products produced by Steve Jobs and Company. Apple's iPad and MacBook Air are simply too impressive for competitors to dole out a basic platform and hope to succeed.

Read on to find out what the competition must do to take on Apple's MacBook Air and iPad 2 in the mobile-computing space.

1. Try Ultrabooks out

Though the fate of Ultrabooks is currently unknown, it wouldn't hurt Apple competitors to at least deliver one of those devices to test the market. On paper, Ultrabooks seem like a compelling idea, thanks to their small footprint and lightweight design. Whether or not consumers will actually respond well to them, however, remains to be seen. If vendors want to quickly take on Apple's MacBook Air, offering an Ultrabook might be a good place to start.

2. Think seriously about design

One of the biggest problems with competing devices, including the Motorola Xoom and countless lightweight notebooks, is that they don't offer the same kind of design quality as Apple's alternatives. If competitors can learn anything from Apple, it's that a solid design means the difference between success and failure. They must remember that as they plan their future devices.

3. Windows won't always cut it

In the lightweight notebook space, Windows reigns supreme. Microsoft is also planning a big push into the tablet space with Windows 8. The only trouble is that operating system might not be best in all cases. Apple's MacBook Air is running Mac OS X. Windows makes perfect sense for competing notebooks. But the same can't be said for tablets. In the tablet space, Android should be running on devices to compete against Apple.

4. Android won't cut it either

Speaking of Android, it's important to note that that operating system won't always work in every case, either. As mentioned, Android would be an ideal software choice in the tablet space, but the operating system can't compete against Mac OS X, which makes Android a poor choice for a lightweight notebook. Android will work to help competitors compete against Apple, but not in every situation.

The Struggle to Offer Something Different


5. Don't try to do both notebooks, tablets

The biggest mistake competitors can make in the mobile-computing space is to look at Apple's strategy of offering both a lightweight notebook and tablet and try to follow suit. Unfortunately for the competition, Apple is a special company that can make both product types work. Most other hardware makers can't. To beat Apple, competitors must focus their efforts on one product category or another and set out to beat Cupertino's option. Splitting attention between both product categories is a mistake.

6. It's all about wireless connectivity

A key component in both lightweight notebooks and tablets is mobility. Consumers want to be able to take their respective devices with them wherever they go and connect to the Web. However, Apple's iPad 2 and MacBook Air don't always accommodate that. The iPad 2 comes with a WiFi and 3G option, which is nice, but the MacBook Air is WiFi-only. Moreover, some consumers opt for the WiFi-only iPad 2. To be successful against Apple, offering both 3G and even 4G connectivity is an absolute necessity.

7. Remember the storage

Apple's one Achilles' heel could be storage. The company's iPad 2 comes with just 16GB to 64GB of onboard storage, while the company's MacBook Air comes with between 64GB and 256GB of storage, depending on the version customers choose. That's not enough in today's increasingly video-dependent environment. Competitors should consider making 128GB of onboard storage standard on tablets and 500GB available on lightweight notebooks. It's a cheap addition that should help improve the value proposition against Apple's products.

8. Consider Chromebooks

Although just a few companies have signed on to work with Google, vendors should consider bringing Chromebooks to the marketplace. They might not sell well in the short term. But cloud computing is the future in the OS market. Currently, Apple isn't doing much to capture that space. Even better, Chromebooks offer something different, a measure of uniqueness. This is something that competitors will need to take Apple on. It might be risky, but launching a Chromebook might be a good long-term move.

9. It's about price-to-value, not price alone

Too often, Apple competitors think that the best way to beat Apple is on price. After all, they say, Apple products are so expensive that offering consumers a cheaper alternative should appeal to customers. But as market share figures have shown, that doesn't necessarily work. Apple is popular not because of its price, but because people believe they're getting a good value for the price. They need to feel the same way about competing products. Cheaper tablets or lightweight notebooks are great as long as people see they are getting value for the product no matter what the price is.

10. Consider the enterprise

If there's one thing Apple hasn't done with its iPad and MacBook Air, it's appeal to the enterprise. The company has stayed decidedly consumer-focused in its device plans. But that doesn't mean competitors need to follow suit. A lightweight notebook and tablet would absolutely appeal to enterprise customers, as long as the value proposition is there. If competitors want to beat Apple, perhaps focusing on corporate customers would be a good idea. 

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