What’s in a Name? For Cheap PCs, Nothing


nullYesterday Intel Corp., (s INTC) and today Microsoft (s MSFT), gave us more proof that their branding skills are as limited as my ability to strike out a major league baseball player.

Intel wants to name its new thin, light and low-power consuming notebooks CULV, aka Consumer Ultra Low Voltage. Many of these devices will be nearly as thin as the MacBook Air. Today, an executive disclosed that Microsoft wants to call mini-notebooks “low-cost small notebooks.” Both of these monikers are about as appealing as the sensation one gets after accidentally rubbing sea salt on a fresh wound.

There are other category-defining names that have been floated by various companies over the past few months, such as smartbooks, UMPC, netbooks and cloud computers. Whatever the name, they are essentially cheap PCs. Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia, summed up my feeling when he said, “Netbooks are not a new category, instead they are just cheap PCs. The $399 PC is here to stay and it will get better and better.” Coming up with a fancy (or convoluted) name isn’t going to change that!


Dan O.

MS / Intel *do* understand marketing. It is this blog that is missing the mark.

Both companies want to simultaneously do two conflicting things:

(1) not undercut their own profits, but offering a much cheaper alternative to current customers.
(2) not get left behind (e.g. be one of the leaders) of the fast growing cheap PC market.

Now how do approximately do BOTH conflicting goals at the same time?

You introduce a product that (a) does not make reference to your own brand, and (b) make it sound really really cheap.

You current customers who love you, will be less tempted to abandon the high end, since they will view the move as abandoning Intel/MS.

customers that are making their choice explicitly based on its cheapness will not be too put off by your name, as their primary consideration is cost/performance, not brand name.

This is a very tricky game to pull off. I wont opine on how well it will ultimately work. But this article seems to demonstrate that the author doesn’t even understand the basic rules of the game being played, yet is seeks to assess how well the players are doing. Disappointing.



I’d go for netbook for the very small/cheap devices (10″ screen or less, possibly with non-x86 CPU, focus on web access) and “thinbook” for the Macbook Air type devices – though it’s not really clear if a new name is needed for these, as they are really not that different to a normal laptop without a DVD drive (e.g. the trusty ThinkPad x61), just thinner.

Now that Psion and Intel have settled over the netbook name dispute, I think netbook is here to stay. I think that the ‘content consumption is focus for netbooks’ idea is wrong – you can create all sorts of content on a netbook including documents, blog postings, wiki pages, etc, and they are ideal as a companion to a digital camera too. It’s just that video editing is beyond their capabilities and they have limited screen size. Given the screen, perhaps one definition is ‘a device on which the Office 2007 interface is truly painful’, which will push people towards different office suites…

Robert Wickus

I think Microsoft wants to change the name to make people think netbooks are just normal computers that don’t cost much. They will do anything a $3000.00 Macbook Pro will do, they just cost less.

I know a guy that has bought 6, yes 6 netbooks of various types and prices over the last year trying to find the perfect little computer. I asked him why he didn’t just buy a Macbook for $999.00 and he said they cost too much. So he bought those 6 netbooks and still can’t find one he likes. I’m sure Microsoft and Intel love these types of people.

There may be a backlash against those netbooks in the long run. I watched a man and his wife buying 3 netbooks at Frys electronics recently. I listened to them ohh and ahh about the cheap price and they could get a computer for themselves and their son instead of just one computer. “You’d better get one for Martha too.” Said the wife. “But she’s only 6.” he said. “Yea, but if you get one for the boy, she’s gonna want one too.”
He agreed as long as the one he got for himself had the little camera built in.

Now it’s a great thing that people can buy and use technology that they never had before. I’m all for that, but these people, who had never owned a computer are going home with the expectations that they are getting full power computers on the cheap and we all know what their experience is going to be like with the underpowered systems they bought. Windows is hard enough on a full power desktop or laptop, but what experience will these people have when their neighbors or co workers talk about the latest games or other software, and then they try to run it on these netbooks?

I suspect the backlash will be that in the future they will remember how bad their experience was with Windows and they might look some place else for their next computer OS.

So Microsoft wants the name change so when they run their Microsoft Lauren bought a laptop ads, she looked at $3000.00 Macs, but opted for a low cost PC for $299.00.


Product categories a) are often meaningless and b) are often settled by the “market” (which may include the press). Stupid names like “Consumer Ultra Low Voltage” are intentionally demeaning, showing the vendor doesn’t want that market to develop. Do you really think consumers think: “finally, a low voltage PC!”? “Yeah, gimme one of them there CULVs.” Or do they think, “hey, I can put this in my pocket and if I drop it or leave it in a bar it only costs me $100?” And which of those do you think will make the product a hit? I’ll bet 98% of consumers think “cloud computing” refers to feathery-light PCs, not applications residing in the bowels of the Internet. The big vendors can come up with good names when they want to. But they have to think they’ll make big profits before they waste their time on them. Intel and MSFT just can’t stand it if they have to play in the low-price business. Other chip & s/w vendors do, though. Meantime Intel & Microsoft will continue to insist the $400 notebook is here to stay.


@Om & Others,

I also don’t agree with the different names, however I do recognize the need for PC industry players to segment the market. Like it or not, Windows bloat has made the laptop market indistinguishable when considering feature sets. Additionally, segmenting the laptop market on price is easy to do in corporate offices (and blogs for that matter :-) ) but extremely difficult in marketing communications and merchandising. As such, I don’t think the PC industry players have much choice. Of note, the best of the lot (measured in marketing strength) is Apple, which has used Macbook Pro, Macbook, and Macbook Air for segmenting the laptop market for the mac, although Apple has higher price points in general.

I personally like laptop, netbook, and smartbook. Laptops are a known product class. Netbooks are emerging, and have proven that they’re here to stay. Smartbooks are unproven, but are a good bet given a likely pending killer feature – voice. I expect that smartbooks will be first out of the gate with concurrent Internet access, cloud based editors, and full voice capabilities in a “laptop” form factor thereby establishing the smartbook product class. Qualcomm, TI, and the other smartbook supporters know that they have this competitive advantage in the short term, and are likely looking to use it given their stated intent to distribute smartbooks exclusively through the carriers.

My $.02,



Gadget Sleuth

Jesse: Yep, a name can be a very big deal. For example, Blu-Ray sounds a lot cooler than HD-DVD, and some are convinced that’s one reason it won the format war.

Om Malik

But are you guys saying the CULV and whatever-the-hell Microsoft is saying is a good and cool name. Please don’t tell me that you guys approve :-)

Jesse Kopelman

Of course not. But when have either MS or Intel had a good name for anything? Doesn’t mean they are going to stop trying. My own answer to CULV: Thinbook. You can thank me later.

Jesse Kopelman

But without a hot new name, how can we use Adwords and the like to monetize the hype? I bet you get a lot more traffic from people googling “netbook” and “CULV” than “cheap small computer”.

Om Malik

Of course :-) Can’t argue with that, but man that makes netbooks sound smart and sexy ;-)

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