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?
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?).
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.