For ultrabooks to succeed, the display needs to approach an iPad's quality, or least match that of a MacBook — which uses higher-end displays.
The screen on the XPS 13 isn't anything special.
A lower-quality display can be a deal breaker for consumers in the age of the iPad, which boasts a high-quality, high-resolution, in-plane switching (IPS) display.
IPS and high-quality twisted-nematic (TN) displays offer viewing angles and contrast typically better than those used on most ultrabooks today.
This shortcoming has become apparent in more than a few reviews of the Dell XPS 13 ultrabook, which in most other aspects is generally considered an excellent design.
The problem? The XPS 13 uses a lower-quality TN display.
IPS offers good viewing angles and contrast, whereas low-quality TN displays are typically inexpensive, but offer inferior viewing angles and poorer contrast.
More broadly, higher-quality displays fall into the category of "wide-viewing angle displays," said Richard Shim, an analyst at NPD DisplaySearch.
"It's safe to say that tablets are influencing notebooks on multiple levels, and screen fidelity is one of them," Shim said.
"If the primary device that people spend most their time using — such as a notebook — doesn't have the same level of picture quality [as a tablet], then people will notice," Shim added.
There is an exception or two in the current crop of ultrabooks. The Hewlett-Packard Envy 14 Spectre ultrabook, for example, appears to use technology that offers wide viewing angles, but it starts at a whopping AU$1899 on HP's website. HP's less-expensive Folio 13 uses more pedestrian screen technology.
The tendency not to use wide-viewing-angle displays on most ultrabooks may continue for the foreseeable future. "What's happening in the ultrabook market right now is that brands are struggling with trying to create a premium product at a mainstream price, and they have to make some decisions as to where to cut back," said Shim.
This is true. But the ultrabook-making industry would be well advised to attach high-quality displays to those cheaper models if they want to fend off market-share erosion from the iPad and MacBook Air.