Colorful laptops may feel the blues, analysts say

Dell and HP are coming out with colorful laptops, but Apple trumps them when it comes to design

Some laptop makers are trying to outdo each other with colorful, personalized laptop designs, but analysts say the trend is unlikely to take off and that price and size remain the top priorities for buyers.

A splash of color can add some personality to a laptop but can also add to its price, and price remains king for most buyers, analysts said. An exception is Apple, whose dedicated fans have been more willing to pay a little extra for its stylish products.

Dell announced Wednesday that it was offering personalized designs for some consumer laptops. The computer maker is now offering laptops with baseball team logos, which brings "team spirit to their PC," according to Dell.

Users can visit Dell's "design studio" and flip through dozens of patterns to create a custom laptop, including a wide range of abstract and geometric patterns created by up-and-coming and established artists.

The company wants to offer designs that can reflect users' personality, said John New, senior manager in Dell's global product marketing team. It is also continuously seeking art from new local artists, he said.

HP is also looking to use color and artwork to add character to its laptops. Certain designs help target specific audiences, said Stacy Wolff, director of notebook product design in HP's personal systems group. They include an HP Mini netbook with artwork by the fashion designer Vivienne Tam.

HP also introduced new netbooks last month in different colors. One has a 3D surface on top, which was designed by Dutch industrial designer Tord Boontje.

The laptops with colored designs deliver better profit margins to HP than conventional netbooks, said IDC research analyst Jay Chou. But it is unclear if many users will pay more for them.

Users want unique laptops that reflect their taste, but price remains king when it comes to buying decisions, said analyst Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies. "You could trump design with price in many cases," he said.

Apple doesn't offer as many color options but has a better grasp of design, Kay said. One example is the sleek, ultraportable MacBook Air, which competitors scrambled to match.

"[Apple] won't release the product until it's thin enough. It has to be something that everybody wants," Kay said. "That's why the fanaticism" around Apple products, he said.

Laptop designs matter less at lower price points, said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group. PC companies tend to use design to set a tone for their products at the high end.

"I think design matters a lot if you are spending $1,500 on a notebook, a lot less if you are spending $500," Baker said.

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Tags HPDellAppleultraportable laptopsThe NPD GroupEndpoint Technologieslaptops

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