9 January 2012 by Paul Dempsey
These ultra thin - 17.8mm - notebooks certainly take their cue from the MacBook Air and its remarkable success. The fact that their commercial launch was accompanied by a tie-up between Intel and voice recognition specialist Nuance also had more-than-half the CES journalists whispering "Siri" within nanoseconds.
However, before we all carp too much, keep a few things in mind.
First, this is Intel's backyard. Ultrabooks were begat by laptops which were in turn begat by PCs. When the company lasers in on the traditional computing space, it delivers strong brands like Pentium, Centrino and, more recently, Core.
Second, this is about the mass market. The MacBook Air remains, for the moment, a premium product with a $999 entry level price tag - and Apple likes protecting its margins. Intel began to seed economies of scale in the ultra-thin laptop space last August by having its venture capital arm launch a $300m Ultrabook Fund. The further below that $999 figure the company and its partners can get, the more reasoned a judgement can be made.
Third, a huge proportion of those critiquing this morning's press conference were Mac owners (many of them using lightweight Airs or, like myself, iPads). It's CES. We're not that normal. We're mostly geeks. And we work in publishing, one of the few industries where the Mac is an established platform for business. Sometimes, preaching to the converted isn't that fruitful.
Beyond all that, the Ultrabooks on show here had some cool features. It wasn't the usual visual demos that impressed me, so much as things like the Identity Protection and Anti-Theft techologies that sync your credit card with your computer. Not so good, if you're looking to cut down on those impulse purchases (near-field communication allows for a tap-to-pay feature). But much better in terms of securing card data transfers to the web.
And, whisper it do, there were also some cool examples of industrial design. One, the Slider, has a touch screen and a keyboard that can be used in either a traditional laptop configuration or with the keyboard folded underneath the screen as a tablet. Go thinner and you get the ability to do that without having a clunky-looking brick.
Another interesting take was the Nikiski. This has a transparent track pad that doubles as a display, taking up about a third of the surface, when the laptop is closed.
Mooly Eden, VP and GM of Intel's PC Client Group, said the company has already secured (or should that be 'seeded') 75 design wins for various Ultrabook configurations. He also promised still further slimming down for the format.
However, the Ultrabook launch isn't going to stop some analysts feeling that, again, Intel still isn't breaking out of the microprocessor 'ghetto'. Indeed, having progressively relinquished positions in mobile communications and, more recently, TV (where it had, from my point of view, a solid looking strategy), the company is open to the charge (though we're told to expect more stuff from a subsequent Paul Otellini keynote later this week).
Nevertheless, with Ultrabooks set to be Intel's biggest marketing push since the Centrino wireless launch, expect to see the company expand the ultra-thin space in a major way from April onwards.
The one thing we didn't get was that much more detail about the third-generation Core processors, codenamed Ivy Bridge, that will power the new range. That will probably have to wait on next month's International Solid State Circuits Conference.
Edited: 09 January 2012 at 10:19 PM by Paul Dempsey
Posted By: Paul Dempsey @ 09 January 2012 09:42 PM General
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