Dell pitches MacBook Air rival, Sony enters netbook market

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Dell pitches MacBook Air rival, Sony enters netbook market

Chicago (IL) – Expect IT to begin 2009 with two major announcements in the notebook segment: Dell continues to work on its image and give Apple’s MacBook Air a run for its money with a new ultra-thin notebook called Adamo. Sony is prepping a new Vaio portable computer that walks a fine line between an ultra-portable notebook and a netbook. What about Apple? As the race to knock down the MacBook Air heats up, the company remains mum on a MacBook Air successor, although Apple is expected to announce a $600 Mac netbook at MacWorld Expo in early January.

It appears that the fame of the Apple MacBook Air may soon be up for grabs as big vendors like Dell and Sony are preparing new products designed to improve Apple’s Macbook Air design. Both vendors claim their upcoming products will be thinner and lighter than the MacBook Air, with more features and lower price points. Dell has been trying to work on its image as an innovative computer manufacturer for some and now is building some extra noise around the upcoming Adamo. The computer maker even took a page out of Apple’s book by resorting to guerrilla marketing tactics and secretive teaser announcements in an effort to generate the same level of buzz and excitement surrounding Apple’s new gadgets.

Dell successfully kicked the rumor mill into motion with a brief post on Uptown Life that showed a teaser image. Dell’s spokesman Bob Kaufman told the NY Times that the post was in fact a teasing ad for an upcoming product dubbed Adamo that is slated for a February launch, around the MacBook Air’s one year anniversary. The paper wrote that Dell indeed owns copyright to the Adamo trademark and pointed to an Adamo mini-site. Dell officials declined to talk about the product beyond confirming that it is in fact an ultra-thin notebook targeted to compete with the MacBook Air. Kaufman noted that Adamo goal is to “wake up the personal computing category and create some buzz.”

According to Engadget, Dell will describe the Adamo a “the world’s thinnest laptop,” meaning the company is confident it will beat the MacBook Air within the ultra-portable category.

Although ultra-thin and ultra-light notebooks represent only a niche in the notebook segment and appeal to a very specific group of customers, they come with a premium price and hefty margins. Given Dell’s aggressive pricing strategy, Adamo may attract consumers who consider the MacBook Air as too expensive or are simply looking for an alternative.

Sony will also join the game with a new product aimed at the MacBook Air. The company even mirrored Dell’s move by setting up its own teaser mini-site that announces a “revolutionary new Vaio that will change the way you look at laptops.” However, the page has been taken offline again. Little is known of the new Vaio beyond the 9.5″ x 4.5″ dimensions that put the product within the netbook category that caters to different types of customers than the ultra-portables do.

Engadget believes it will incorporate wireless 802.11b/g/n networking, Bluetooth and both EVDO and HSPA cellular network connectivity, courtesy of Qualcomm’s Gobi chipset. The lack of mobile broadband Internet connectivity is considered a deal breaker for some potential MacBook Air customers, although there are USB-based mobile Internet cards for it. Some other vendors have notebooks that try to compete with MacBook Air on thinness and lightness, like HP’s Voodoo Envy 133 and Lenovo’s ThinkPad X300. However, the MacBook Air has remained the defining comprehensive ultra-thin notebook so far.

We expect something new form Apple as well. There is no information on a potential Macbook Air successor and an actual update for the device seems to be unlikely as there have been only limited hardware advances. But there is a persistent rumor that Apple will announce a $600 Mac netbook at the MacWorld Expo in early January – a new product that industry watchers believe is the next big thing for Apple. Since we know that the economy is rather unlikely to get back up on its feet in the first half of the year and since we know that Apple will be vulnerable as well, a cheaper version of the Macbook Air in the $600 segment certainly makes a whole lot of sense.