Intel plans massive push around touchy-feely Ultrabooks
Biggest launch in nearly a decade
Intel is planning its biggest marketing campaign since the launch of Centrino in 2003 in an attempt to make Ultrabook laptops and tablet-hybrids more attractive to buyers.
Speaking at Intel's investor briefing day, Kirk Skaugen, Chipzilla's recent replacement to head its PC Client group, promised 110 reference designs for Ultrabooks by the end of the year.
Twenty of those involve systems that can be used as a tablet, either by folding the system or with a detachable screen that doubles as a fondleslab, with one concept model showing a half-sized touch panel built into a laptop shell.
Intel has also assigned $300m for the creation of an Ultrabook ecosystem – and this isn’t money going to directly to subsidize the systems but to encourage new and existing companies to develop hardware and software for the platform, with thinner screens a high priority.
Chipzilla is also setting up special Ultrabook shopping areas within retail outlets to push the platform. Customers can get a hands-on session with the new systems and presumably get a serious sales pitch as well.
The object of the marketing push isn't just to establish Ultrabooks in the minds of consumers and ultimately enterprises, he said, but also to speed up the refresh cycle for existing kit.
People generally replace a laptop after four years, but cutting this to three would mean another $35bn in sales to the industry, Skaugen predicted.
The price point Intel is aiming for is $699 for a base Ultrabook system, with a premium for touch screen models, although he acknowledged that some Chinese manufacturers using local components had already got below $600 per unit. Next year Intel also expects to see Ultrabooks that offer voice and even gesture control, presumably for a healthy price premium.
The key differentiator Intel is working for Ultrabooks is size – specifically slimness. The thinnest Ultrabook designs have now gone smaller than 18mm and Intel has redesigned components to fit.
Batteries have been reconfigured from cylindrical designs, cutting sizes from 9.5mm to 6.5mm, and the heat sink has been redesigned to be just 6mm high.
Kirk Skaugen demos a concept Ultrabook/tablet
On the software side, Skaugen demoed two features that will be used to distinguish Ultrabooks from common laptops: RapidStart and SmartConnect. RapidStart cuts the boot time of an Ultrabook from 30 seconds to a couple in the Dell XPS system used in the demo (once the demonstrator figured out where the power button was) by storing data in non-volatile memory.
SmartConnect allows a system in sleep mode to update itself with application data like email and social networking so it is up to date on boot, while using minimal power. This system has been designed to work even more efficiently with the Connected Standby function in Windows 8 when it's released in the Autumn, Skaugen promised.
Once Redmond has got its new OS out the door, Intel is going to begin marketing Ultrabooks heavily to enterprises, with security and management features aimed at IT managers. An update to vPro that is expected in the next week also plays with Ultrabooks and Skaugen said that security, particularly anti-theft technology, would be a key pitch.
Looking ahead, the Haswell processor should be on stream next year and Skaugen promised the improved power and thermal design of the chip would allow an Ultrabook to be left in SmartConnect mode for 10 days without recharging. The extra grunt would also power Intel's plans to add gesture and voice controls to systems using its hardware.
All these features will, no doubt, be fed down the value chain into the more traditional laptop ranges, but there's no reason for Intel to hurry.
As an investor's question pointed out, raising the average selling price for laptops with a premium Ultrabook range will be good for slowing price erosion, and Intel said it isn’t discounting the chipsets. That attitude may change if Ultrabooks aren't the big hit Intel is hoping. ®
Dear Mr Intel
I would have already bought one of your ultratoys to replace my nasty Dell mini with its 600 vertical pixels, were it not for the fact that you hobble your customer's designs to something like 768 vertical pixels.
This is 2012, and I expect something better than the Hercules adaptor I had in my IBM-AT in 1985.
If your ultraslab has a screen resolution of 3000-odd by 1500-odd, I shall beat a path to the first person who tries to sell me one.
Oh, and yes. Mending is right. Some modern connectivity, and how about /built in/ wireless for an external optical disk, using some scheme that leaves the wifi and the bluetooth free. Ability to take phone calls. SD memory card slots (plural, note).
But most of all get us away from these miserable tv-based video standards to something more appropriate for computing.
someone who is going to pay for what I want, not what you want me to want.
I'll believe it when I see it
I run my life off an 11" MacBook Air, so more competition in this market can only be good. When you hold one and realise it feels like an A4 folder not a computer it all makes sense.
But Intel and the manufacturers have bungled it here-too much copying of Apple (first the MBAs, now the iPad) and not enough innovation. Where's the power adapter common to all Ultrabooks as a requirement to use the trademark? The laptop without an island keyboard to make it easier for the slow-to-adapt? Why can't they have Thunderbolt as a requirement to kickstart a connectivity system which would work very, very well with these SSD-only, small-display laptops? And what are the bets that Apple gets a little bit annoyed by Intel parking its tanks on their lawn and switches to AMD?
Re: Open Letter
I understand your frustration. Intel engineers don't use those pesky 768 screens either but I'm afraid you overestimate the influence of Intel over the decisions of OEM customers.
'Ivy Bridge' adds improved integrated graphics, USB 3.0 etc. and there are considerable further improvements in the pipeline for 2013. Meanwhile the Ultrabook specifications are being extended but please note these are setting base levels, OEMs can go beyond 768 to 1080p and beyond for graphics if they choose to.
Some Intel initiatives take several years to come to fruition. The years it takes to bring a new processor architecture to production can be hard to comprehend by customers impatient for the next new thing.
Beyond semiconductors, initiatives like Intel development of slimline notebook designs based on x86 has taken years to make happen, with only one OEM customer, Apple, promoting this development in earnest to begin with. Hence the recent Ultrabook campaign. Likewise Intel Thunderbolt connectivity and the USB 3.0 standard have not taken off as quickly as would be desirable for more demanding users.
I suggest you make your opinions known to the laptop manufacturers who are in a position to do something about changes to their products.
Re: 110 Reference Designs?
I think the message here is that Intel thinks they have to spell it out for the PC manufacturers, on account of the poor quality of their machines in recent times (as compared to, say, macbooks).
Yes. Microsoft and the OEM's managed to kill them off as a viable option.