Get ready for Ultrabooks. At the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show taking place this week in Las Vegas, Ultrabooks are being shown by several manufacturers, and Intel -- which started the category -- is showing a variety of new technologies that it envisions for the ultra-thin laptops.
At a press event Monday, Intel discussed a possible future for Ultrabooks that includes an Ultrabook "slider" with large see-through touchpad, allowing the device to be used as a laptop or, when closed, as a touchscreen tablet. Mooly Eden, vice president of the Intel PC Client Group, told news media at the event that touchscreens in Ultrabooks will be used in conjunction with keyboards and touchpads, rather than in place of them.
Voice Control, Gyroscopes
Some models are expected to have near-field communication, or NFC, technology for wireless in-person contact-less payments, and Intel's Rapid Start Technology, which will allow for quick boot-ups. Other expected innovations include laptops controlled by voice or gesture.
The voice-control technology is being developed by Intel and Nuance, maker of Dragon speech recognition software, although this capability is not expected to be ready until next year at the earliest. Intel also envisions Ultrabooks with gyroscopes, so that the devices can be use for tilting in games or for orienting the display to the viewer's position.
Ultrabooks are very thin, powerful, quick-to-boot laptops with highly efficient battery usage, and Intel is saying that 2012 will be the "Year of the Ultrabook." Originally, Intel called the category Consumer Ultra Low Voltage, or CULV, devices, because they're built around low-voltage processors.
A huge marketing campaign is planned for this year, the largest campaign since Intel introduced the Centrino processor in 2003, and it will be built around the tagline of "A New Era in Computing." Last spring, Intel said its goal was to shift 40 percent of consumer laptops to Ultrabooks by the end of this year.
In a posting on its Technology@Intel blog last summer, Intel's Becky Emmet wrote that "Ultrabooks offer five hours of battery life even in the sleekest form factors," adding that some systems are expected to deliver eight hours or more usage.
The first released Ultrabook line is the Asus Zenbook UX21 and UX31, which were first shown at a London event in October. They are expected to be priced about $1000, and Intel said it anticipated Ultrabook prices to move significantly below $1000. Although by some definitions Apple's MacBook Air qualifies as an Ultrabook, it is expected to remain pricier, and many observers consider it to be among the main competitors to Ultrabooks.
In addition to Asus, Ultrabooks are being released by Dell, HP, Lenovo, Toshiba, and Acer. Ultrabooks are also being targeted at businesses, such as Lenovo's S430. More than a dozen Ultrabooks have been released or are coming out now, and the category should have at least 75 entries by the end of this year.