Apple Protects Its Core

Laptops are experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as IT companies strain to keep up with consumer demand for faster, sleeker, and lighter mobile devices. Apple (NAS: AAPL) , always the lead innovator in this field, is once again rumored to be working on a new, more powerful notebook that takes the best of its MacBook Pro and adds the most advanced attributes of the MacBook Air -- a move that, if true, would almost certainly leave its competitors in the dust.

Slim, ultra-light laptops combine the best characteristics of notebooks and tablets. These state-of-the-art ultrabooks are powered by microprocessors made by Intel (NAS: INTC) , the giant chipmaker that has been supplying computer processors since Hector was a pup. These devices were a big hit at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Many manufacturers promoted their own version of the device, but they all had one thing in common: They are largely based on Apple's MacBook Air.

According to information procured by AppleInsider, the new, improved MacBook Pro will feature solid-state drives, increased battery life, and the instant-on ability of which mobile users are so enamored. It will closely resemble the MacBook Air and is expected to launch sometime this spring in the ever-popular 15-inch size. The source of this information also speculated that the current MacBook Pro will be phased out over the next few months, presumably as the new model gains a foothold.

Apple takes steps to protect its market share
While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Apple is scarcely sitting still while rivals attempt to undercut one of its most lucrative products. The Cupertino titan recently exercised its considerable market muscle to persuade a Taiwan-based contractor it uses for its iPhones to stop manufacturing the Asus Zenbook, a MacBook Air lookalike. Not surprisingly, the contractor chose Apple when presented with an "us or them" ultimatum.

In other news, Apple was awarded a barrel full of patents recently, one of which seems to protect the design and appearance of the MacBook Air from copycats. What Apple plans to do with this new patent remains to be seen, but who, besides Asus, should be concerned?

Currently, Toshiba's Portege, Lenovo's IdeaPad, and the Acer Inspire S3 are all laptops that closely resemble the Air. Also very similar is Dell's (NAS: DELL) XPS 13, presented at the CE show and scheduled to become available at the end of February. This machine is a true ultrabook, and Dell compares its viewing area with that of the MacBook Air -- something it may regret. For those who have yet to produce the ultrathin notebook that consumers really want, Apple's new patent may have a chilling effect. Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) , for instance, whose Folio 13 and Envy 14 Spectre are each a bit too bulky to be placed squarely in the ultrabooks league, may want to watch its back if it tries to improve the sleekness of either device in the future.  

Whether or not rival computer makers are worried about the wrath of Apple, the company will almost certainly continue to dominate the ultrabook market. While some ultrabook makers were so concerned about selling price that they requested a discount from Intel on the microprocessors, Apple already knows that its product will sell, no matter what the price. Think you've seen the highest stock price for Apple? Just wait until the new MacBook Pro comes to market. Better yet, jump on the Apple cart now, before the new highs. Because, as they say, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

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At the time this article was published Fool contributor Amanda Alix owns no shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Intel.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Intel and Apple, creating a bull call spread position in Apple, and writing covered calls in Dell. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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