Acer's Ultrabook Sneak Attack Puts Pricing Pressure On Rivals

"I think it clearly sets the tone. The other manufacturers won’t be able to wait too long before adjusting their price," said Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing at ASI, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder. "I wouldn’t be surprised to see them all list models at or near the same price point as Acer."

Acer has set pricing for its forthcoming Aspire S3 ultrabook at $899.99, making it the first vendor to break the $1,000 price barrier in the U.S. market. New Age Electronics, the consumer electronics division of distributor Synnex, is currently listing the product for its retail customers at the $899.99 price point.

Acer's sub-$900 pricing will put pressure on rivals that have already unveiled ultrabooks but have yet to begin shipments. Lenovo and Toshiba earlier this month unveiled models with prices starting at $1,200 and $1,000 respectively. Asus, a key Acer rival, is expected to reveal pricing for its X21 and X31 ultrabooks next month.

However, just because Acer is reverting to its historical tactic of undercutting rivals doesn't necessarily mean it'll take a dominant share of the ultrabook market, according to Steve Bohman, vice president of operations at Columbus Micro, a Columbus, Ohio-based system builder.

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"Acer traditionally jumps straight to the floor [with pricing], but I think higher quality brands such as Asus and Toshiba will be able to sell comparable products for a little more," Bohman said.

Bob Nitrio, CEO of Ranvest Associates, an Orangevale, Calif.-based technology consultant, sees the potential for a two front battle in the ultrabook space. "On one front will be the battle for market share based mostly on price. This is apparently where Acer plans to dig in for the fight," he said.

On the other front, Nitro said, PC makers will be competing on performance. "This is where Samsung, Toshiba and Apple will likely slug it out. Lenovo will probably engage its competitors on both fronts," he said.

Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, a Kent, Wash.-based system builder, believes that ultrabooks have a bright future, even if they never quite match up with the MacBook Air from a usability standpoint.

"Companies like Acer and Asus have the resources to get it right, and they will," said Bach. "They won't beat Apple's user experience, but they will beat Apple's price."

Acer and Asus are both expecting to ship 200,000 ultrabooks per month during the fourth quarter, Digitimes reported earlier this week.

Intel is bullish on ultrabooks, too: When the chipmaker began touting ultrabooks in May at Computex in Taiwan, company officials said they expect ultrabooks to account for 40 percent of consumer laptop sales by the end of 2012.

Earlier this month, however, Acer officials pumped the brakes a bit and said they expect ultrabooks to account for 25 percent of the company's notebook sales next year.