Intel announced plans last week to enter the tablet market. But before it gets there, it's taking a slight detour into laptops with tablet-like features.
Intel is looking at the stark reality of mobile computing. By the end of 2012 the company reports, a new breed of computers will make up 40 percent of the consumer laptop market. Intel is dubbing this segment the Ultrabook, a device that combines performance with improved responsiveness and security in a thin form factor.
"Computing is taking many forms," Sean Maloney, executive vice president of Intel, said during the opening keynote speech at Computex during the weekend. "Technology innovation is a catalyst, and we believe the changes Intel is making to its road maps, together with strong industry collaboration, will bring about an exciting change in personal computing over the next few years."
Path To Ultrabook
Of course, the Ultrabook isn't an overnight innovation. Maloney described three phases in Intel's strategy to drive the vision forward. It begins with the company's just-introduced second-generation Intel Core processors, which are less than 20mm thick at price points under $1,000. This chip will debut in the ASUS Ultrabook in time for the holiday shopping season.
The vision won't be complete until Ivy Bridge, the next-generation Intel processor, debuts in the first half of 2012. Laptops donning Ivy Bridge promise more power efficiency, better visual performance and responsiveness, and enhanced security. The technology taps Intel's recently announced 3D transistor design called Tri-Gate. Future Ultrabooks will also sport USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt technologies. Thunderbolt is a recent innovation featured in the latest Apple computers.
Finally, as Intel's road map moves into 2013, the Haswell processors will make their way to market. This is the third step toward the promise of the Ultrabook that realizes the vision of an ultrathin design. When Haswell hits the scene, Intel said, it will change the mainstream laptop thermal design point by reducing microprocessor power to half of today's design point.
Competing Against Apple
From a technological standpoint, Ivy Bridge complements a thin form factor with long battery life, instant-on features, and much more robust performance capabilities than a standard netbook or a tablet, according to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. But whether the market will adopt Ultrabooks is the $64,000 question.
"In order to enjoy the iPad's long battery life or remarkable energy efficiency, users have had to take a hit on the types of applications they use," King said. "The iPad is great for running Apple applications that have been written for the device or iPhone apps that have been rewritten for the iPad, but it doesn't deliver the full-blown PC performance and applications that many people are used to and many people enjoy."
As King sees it, the Ultrabook model attempts to create a best-of-all-possible-worlds solution where consumers get lightness, mobility and all the applications they know and perhaps have invested into for the PC. King expects the Ultrabook to create interesting points of differentiation for Intel's OEM partners.
"At the end of the day, the manufacturers are the ones going head-to-head with Apple and getting their clocks cleaned because the Android-based tablets have had some trouble on the market," King said. "The idea of a device that offers many, if not most, of the benefits of the iPad along with the functionality of traditional PCs could really help Intel's OEM partners be more competitive in what looks to be a rapidly growing part of the industry."