Computer makers are belatedly trying to make the transition from humdrum hardware to lifestyle accessory.

What does Apple have that other similar devices don’t? Spec for spec, competitors can stack up products which match or beat Apple – and even sell at a much cheaper price. But the one thing they cannot match is the love affair consumers have with brand Apple. Whether it is a music player, a mobile phone or a mobile computer, Apple has managed to take on all comers – and outsell them all, and at a premium price.

Apple is not just the most successful tech brand in history. It is one of the most successful brands, period. Apple consistently positioned itself as an aspirational lifestyle brand, rather than just technology-driven devices – with spectacular results. Last year, Apple earned more revenues per square foot from its iconic Apple stores than any other US retailer. In fact, its retail sales are more than double Tiffany’s, the second largest single brand retailer in the US.

Belatedly, other technology device players have woken up to the power of branding – and the realisation that devices are increasingly bought based on lifestyle choices, rather than brute hardware power.

The mobile computing space is going through the third revolution. If the first revolution was technology, which managed to pack the computing power of a serious desktop into a device the size of a standard office file, the second was driven by speed and multimedia capabilities.

But the third revolution is being driven by style. And this is where computer makers are entering unfamiliar territory - emotion.

‘Do you believe in first love?’ reads the punchline for Asus’s Zenbook series of ‘ultrabooks’. A far cry from the standard “powered by XYZ Chic with ABC speed” kind of pitch which most computer makers have been using so far. And still do. Hewlett Packard’s (HP) punch-line for its Envy Ultrabook reads: “Epic battery life. All-nighter ready – 8-hour battery!”

But most of the so-called ‘ultrabooks’ – fast, ultra thin, ultra lightweight laptops on the lines of Apple’s Macbooks – are trying to clearly differentiate themselves from their tech-driven siblings of the past.

Gone is the commodity-driven dependence on chip speed or disk capacity to pitch the device. Instead, the focus is on lifestyle, and celebrity models to push brands. So Kareena Kapoor demonstrates Sony’s new range of colours, while Ranbir Kapoor deadpans Lenovo’s ‘rapid load’ feature.

“Devices are changing according to the needs of the consumers and there is a huge convergence of user devices which enable consumers to easily connect anytime, anywhere,” says Shishir Singh, Director-Product Marketing, Dell India.

According to Alex Huang, Country Manager-System Business Group, Asus India, promotional plans play an important role in awareness, establishment and sustainability of the brand, as well as for the individual product.

Yet, “such means can only be an additional aid for the brand, as the brand itself should include strong enough qualitative aspects so as to stand out as the best choice upfront in the market,” he adds.

According to analysts, ultrabooks are still considered a premium product in the Indian market, with a share of about five per cent in overall PC market of around 11 million units.

“With prices starting from around Rs 50,000 and above, it is an area where every company is trying to fire sales,” Sumanta Mukherjee, Lead Analyst at Cyber Media Research said.

Which might be why giving up past habits is proving hard for most companies. Whether it is Acer, Dell, HP or Asus, all are basing promotions on features, processors and battery lifecycle.

“At Dell we are focused and position our brand as one which enables people to pursue their passions through technology, and allowing customers to enjoy an ‘always connected’ lifestyle,” says Singh.

“We are focusing on providing premium solutions that meet customers' needs, be it through specifications, features and apps that can be customised as per the customer’s requirement, and in which we are realising growth,” he added.

The company has been engaged in embracing social media since 2006 by using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, Direct2Dell blog, as well as product ratings and reviews written by customers and embedded within the purchase experience across

“We have a social media listening programme where we directly reach out to individuals who may be reaching out for help or offering advice. There is a human element that social media brings to conversations, which makes the relationship between the customer and the company stronger,” he said.

Acer India is also using a similar idea of promoting its Ultrabooks and coming out with a 360-degree advertisement campaign in the next three weeks.

“We have differentiated it as a niche product because it is going to be priced high. We would be leveraging sales looking at consumers’ experience with features such as faster responses, slimness of the product, light weight and heavy-duty battery,” says S. Rajendran, Chief Marketing Officer, Acer India.

But the gap remains. While companies are trying to create a segment that is thinner, lighter and more feature-rich, the leap from computing commodity lifestyle accessory is proving difficult for many manufacturers.

“It is a volume game for many. Sleeker devices with some premium cost will drive the market,” says Mukherjee.

(This article was published on June 27, 2012)
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