Intel's latest showcase hybrid tablet-notebook is impressive as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. It's too heavy, too expensive, and too short on battery life to make a serious dent in the iPad/MacBook juggernaut.
Intel showed off its new "Cove Point" design at IDF 2012 in Beijing last week. The new design features a thin and beautiful notebook-tablet computer that essentially looks like a horizontal "slider" phone with a 13.3-inch touchscreen. The design looks interesting and some are touting it as an iPad competitor, but the device isn't even close.
Intel's Cove Point demo system can act as a full notebook...
Intel Cove Point is basically the modern version of the Microsoft Tablet PC, originally launched in 2002, which failed to capture any significant market share. The Tablet PC (renamed Slate PC in 2010) was too heavy to be a tablet, too expensive to appeal to the masses, and too slow to boot or wake up quickly. It was optimized only for mouse or high-precision stylus rather than touch. Cove Point has made substantial progress in all of these areas, but it's not the approach that will capture any significant market share. It might be the best tablet PC to date and be a successful product, but it likely will remain in the tablet PC niche market.
Cove Point reportedly costs $1000 to make, which will put the retail price well north of the magical $999 price point. The PC industry has been battered by Apple's $999 MacBook Air and $499 iPad. Between $499 and $999 is the sweet spot that Apple has been riding to the bank while the PC industry has been left with minimal-profit notebooks below $499 and overpriced premium PC notebooks that are being dominated by higher-end MacBooks.
Apple's iPad succeeded where Tablet PC failed because it took the oversized smartphone approach rather than the undersized notebook approach. The iPad weighs less than 1.5 lbs and can remain on and usable for 11 hours. Notebook computers, whether Macs or PCs, must be suspended when not being actively used and even then can run for only five to eight hours with an oversized battery. The only successful non-Apple hybrid notebook tablet on the market is the Asus Transformer, which features a thin and sleek tablet with a modular keyboard-battery. The Asus Transformer works because the tablet can be separated from the keyboard and secondary battery, and the tablet is similar in size and weight to the iPad.
...or as a tablet.
Cove Point is much thinner and lighter than earlier-generation tablet PCs, but a 13.3" screen with a permanently attached keyboard is simply too heavy to be a tablet. Moreover, Cove Point will be based on Intel's Ivy Bridge platform, which means it will lack the ability to remain always on. Although Ivy Bridge features Intel's advanced 22nm Tri-gate manufacturing process and represents the latest advances in notebook battery life performance, it's still a PC that needs to be shut down or suspended. This inability to remain always on will not be rectified until 2013 when Intel launches its Haswell processors. Intel Haswell will have the performance of notebooks--and the ability to remain on "connected standby" for 10 days.
So can Intel and Microsoft succeed in the tablet market in 2012? Yes, but they aren't going to do it with Intel Cove Point or products like it. It will take a completely fresh approach with Intel Medfield always-on processors built for smartphones and tablets running Windows 8. But that's another story.
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