Asus ZenBook: The MacBook Air Killer?

Posted by · October 11, 2011 4:31 pm

Asus ZenBookRecently, it has become common practice to dub a new product poised to compete with the current frontrunner the “[insert frontrunner here] killer.” From talk of Google Plus being the “Facebook killer” back in June to talk of the Amazon Silk-powered Kindle Fire being the “iPad killer”, calling a new product a “killer” is a surefire way to make an opinion go viral in the blogosphere.

This, of course, begs the question: Is the Asus ZenBook set to become the “MacBook Air Killer”?

ZenBook Heavily Favored

If one were to consult one of the several publications already stirring the pot, that person would immediately think that the end of Apple dominance in the ultraportable market was already inevitable. Paying little mind to the fact that the ZenBook is not set to hit American shelves until tomorrow (Oct. 12), VentureBeat writer Devindra Hardawar has already determined that the new Asus ultraportable notebook is a “MacBook killer”.

“At first glance, it’s impossible not to think of the MacBook Air when looking at the all-metal design of the ZenBook,” she notes in her article.

Gizmodo contributor Adrian Covert also joined the hype, calling the ZenBook “MacBook Air-like” and “pretty damn impressive”. If that’s not enough to make you think he’s been sold on (or more appropriately, is selling) the ZenBook, his article title—“Asus Zenbook Hands On: Good Lord There’s a Lot of Awesome Packed Into Something This Thing”—most certainly is.

Even The Next Web Blog calls the new ZenBooks “Asus’ MacBook Air clones” and suggests “[s]omeone call the Apocalypse, [because] it looks like PC hardware might be entering into an age of ‘not sucking.’” To top it all off, writer Alex Wilhelm includes in his conclusion, “looking at the [spec] chart, with each level of the machine matching, or even slightly beating, the Apple equivalent, color us impressed.”

But common to most pre-release hype in the press, there is just one, only slightly critical aspect that’s throwing off the pre-ZenBook karma: reality.

ZenBook Lightly Labored

Set to be available in the same 11- and 13-inch sizes that the Air comes in—and starting at $999 as the Air does—it’s difficult from the outset to see what angle a less reputable brand like Asus is going to use in order to compete with the likes of Apple. It’s hard to imagine the $200 difference that separates a 13-inch Zenbook from a MacBook Air inflicting an even minor blow to the Mac Empire, especially considering this is Asus’ first attempt to make an ultraportable notebook.

Recall the warning that the Apple faithful were given when the iPad first came out, when Fast Company published an article entitled “Why You Shouldn’t Buy an iPad (Yet)”. An entire section was devoted to the fact that even first-generation Apple products are known for their bugginess, as well as the inflated price and limited capabilities that are generally typical among first-generation gadgets.

“The early adopter tax isn’t the only cost of acquiring an unproven device,” Fast Company writer Gina Trapani advised.

If buyer beware has any application at all, I think she nailed it. Nevertheless, the reason to be skeptical—or at least to wait until the ZenBook has actually had time to prove itself on the market—does not end there.

Like Karma, History Finds Its Balance

As I mentioned earlier, this is not the first time that “killer” language has been used to introduce a new product that doesn’t live up to expectations. Although it may not turn out to be the flop that other Google attempts at social media have been, Google Plus has proven to be anything but the Facebook undertaker, as the 700 million user-strong social media site has continued to dominate those who challenge its hegemony.

In a similar manner, the advent of the Kindle Fire did not send Apple stock into a tailspin. Nor did it cause the iPad to lose its death grip on the tablet market, which CS Monitor writer Matthew Shaer predicts will remain the norm for the next few years. In fact, the latest figures from comScore reveal that the Apple iPad is responsible for over 97 percent of all tablet web traffic in the United States. Despite the long-term promise shown by the Kindle Fire, it is no “iPad killer”; but then again, who says it needs to be?

Chances are that the ZenBook, even if successful from the start, will not be the beginning of the end for the MacBook Air. Nor will it be the conclusion of the MacBook Air’s dominance in the ultraportable notebook market.

The Mac vs. PC war has never been based solely on the quality of the product, but one of brand loyalty and creativity. Although a Mac fan will tell you that every Mac product is better than its PC counterpart, a significant component of such fierce loyalty comes back to a time when he or she bought into the experience that Mac offered and hasn’t been inclined to turn back since.

It’s a battle of maintaining a mysterious allure and an attractive company character, an edge that Apple hopes to maintain despite the tragically young passing of Steve Jobs last week.

To put it simply, delivering the right product is only the beginning of the equation.