Geek goes sleek.


I wrote in one of my earlier blogs about the opportunity for mainstream laptop brands (Sony, Toshiba, Dell etc) to introduce better styling, color being one of the clear and simple opportunities. Last 3 months have seen many new stylish laptops being launched and the action is hotting up. 

SONY was the first brand in 2006 with its C series to introduce color. Good to see it hitting the right notes again with the SONY VAIO CR series which comes in 5 metallic colors ( Dell is offering 9 colors with its INSPIRON in US) and has other interesting styling touches like contrasting interiors, sleek MAC-ish keypad and color coordinated accessories. Also SONY is finally recognizing the fact that it no longer has the same brand cachet. It has priced the CR series at the same level as similarly spec-ed non-color laptops from brands like HP (in 2005 the average selling price of a Sony laptop was 20% higher than a similar one from HP).

Superior styling and similar technical specs at parity price will help drive volumes. The range of color coordinated accessories and specially designed Mandarina Duck Vaio laptop bags (Philips and Swarovski, now Sony and Mandarina Duck), will potentially add to the total bill value and will in effect result in higher total revenue per laptop. How about merchandising the laptops at the uber-stylish Mandarina Duck stores? mand-duck-bags.jpg

 LENOVO Thinkpad Reserve edition launched on the 15th anniversary of Thinkpad, is another interesting product. However the styling changes are all external. The laptop is the usual all black Thinkpad but comes clad in a fine grade leather saddle. Leather is perhaps more in line with the Thinkpad’s core “business” segment.  One of their cheaper laptops (F20) has a co-branded Coke red version.

Toshiba, HP, Acer, Fujitsu Siemens are watching closely, I am sure. Apple is not included in this line up as it is far ahead in the design and style leaguetable (did you know that you could get your white or black Macbook custom color painted, for $449?).  colorware-macbook.jpg

Closing thoughts:  The consumer ( i.e non-commercial) laptop market has grown significantly over the last 5 years driven by better multi-media capability and falling prices. While a laptop is not as big a style statement as the mobile phone, the increasing penetration of laptops will make aesthetics and styling increasingly important. Color is just a first logical step and will soon be a hygiene factor. A good next step for brands in the mid-spec, mid-price consumer laptop market would be to go beyond aesthetics and focus on superior user functionality (the new Vaio keypad is a good example) at a time when differentiation in core technical specs-processor, memory, video, sound- in this price segment is not easy and sustainable. Other ways of adding perceived value(without adding manufacturing costs and complexity) and driving sales would be longer warranties (currently everyone offers the standard 1 year), bundled offers (cameras, USB drives, printers, mp3 players etc) and support services like the Apple genius bar. Students are already a big segment for laptops and offering features relevant to them can help sales. How about a built-in storage unit for USB drives? Spill-proof key board? I am sure the race to develop a competitively priced green eco-friendly laptop is already on. The blue-print is here.


6 responses to “Geek goes sleek.

  1. I think that’s a pretty smart idea and also big trend as many laptop companies are now try to become savvier about product design and woo consumers who increasingly see technology products as fashion accessories. We can see that they’ve been putting a lot of energy in that as they refashion themselves.

    These years has seen the gap of traditional strengthes of laptop brands (Apple-design, Acer-low costs, Dell-supply chain, HP-retail prowess..)becoming smaller and smaller.

    But laptops, after all is not like FMCG consumer goods. So I quite agree that the next cut-throat competition will be in core technology. I also believe after-sales technology support would become crutial as a key point to keep their consumers happy. Supply chain is still important but I think the trend is that it has been losing its priority as we can see that Dell has lost a lot share to HP.

  2. I have to say : when I first heard og the swarovski usb drives, i rolled my eyes. Now I am considering….

    some flashing thoughts:
    1) Is this technology waking upto the female user – coloured laptops, designer carry cases, swarovski flash drives, flourecent pink mobile phones etc? or
    2) Is this the accesorising of technology?

    If its the former, future trends might well be in the areas of simplifying usage via both hardware and software (how many women have been accused of being technically challenged!) as well as more investment in styling. Maybe a mirrored laptop! who knows…

  3. The closing thoughts somehow left me thinking on the evolutionary trend of personal electronic items. Would laptop be the next drive of digital fashion accessory (after mobile phone) ? might depend on how the category players look into consumer world and interact with technology enabolars to unlock exsiting consumer need and make it mega.

    Look at the laptop development path, when the high price in early stage made the catogory as ‘personal luxury’, brand name acted as a big justifier of quality assurance. However when core technology has been accessed widely now, what could be done next step?…at least 2 points I am taking out from this post.
    1st, More segmented product position, which helps to develop more ‘target-relevant’ key benefits to boost volume. Appealing color and design for female need? Personal visiting service to save time for 24/7 entrepreneur? Carton-featured design for showing-off school teens? I like the idea of bundled offers with web cam and cable for collegees…
    2nd, In mass mid-price segment, offer more preceived add value to provide superior user experience more than ‘a thing’ will be smarter than adding on spec of core technology ( which will pressure the R&D and product line) … Apealing design with adding a cobranded luxary laptop bag? Some service of refreshing laptop color at times like what Apple is doing? sprill-proof key board is an another good idea 

    Ps: Good post for my learning. Now shamelessly sharing above takeout & looking forward to see more flourishing discussion here 

  4. Interesting thought, also of those who have commented. For me, I’m just suprised these ‘giants’ took so long to get here. Today techology is part of a ‘lifestyle’ , why not show it off if you pay a premium for it.
    And Jenny, guys are equally (if not more) fashion consious themselves, the way things look does matter after all. Cheers!

  5. Really good to see Sony and Dell pushing the colour envelope in a big way. IBM/Lenovo offerings reminds me too much of Ford’s Model T — you can have it in any colour as long as it’s black. And it’s about time we broke free from the tyranny of Apple White.

    Just a heads-up that Acer and Asus have already been dipping their toes into the style category for some time now, via co-branding — Acer with Ferrari and Asus with Lamborghini. They incorporated styling cues, carbon composite materials and also colours that match the car manufacturers specifications into their high-end laptops. And like their namesakes, they come at a wallet-shrinking price too. However, they are very testosterone-laden and caters to the male understanding of what is fashion.

    The next logical step in the evolution process is to capitalise on the hitherto largely untapped women’s market for laptops and their accessories. Liz Clairborne is already lined up to launch a whole new range of laptops and electronic accessories. No word yet on who they will be tying up with. But I sincerely hope pink isn’t one of the colour options.

    Talking about colours, I think it wouldn’t hurt if some of the more enlightened laptop manufacturers were to offer graphic design options to go with their colour choices. Ok, not quite over-the-top like the Nokia L’Armour Collection. But something distinctive yet subtle and stylish. Too much to ask for?

  6. I like how companies are supplying more unique models for consumers. Also, the skins industry is picking up, you can get skins for almost any type of modern laptop for your favorite sports teams, causes, or art tastes.

    I like that red Mac, that is pretty out there. Sony always brings the good, I’ve noticed they make some nice looking designs, probably why they demand higher prices.

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