Intel's Plan To Make Laptops Sexy Again: Ultrabooks - InformationWeek

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Government // Enterprise Architecture
10:38 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus

Intel's Plan To Make Laptops Sexy Again: Ultrabooks

Intel's ultrabook initiative has reinvigorated mobile PC design. But will ultrabooks steal some momentum from tablets, or are they too little, too late?

Tablet Vs. Ultrabook: 10 Ways To Choose
Tablet Vs. Ultrabook: 10 Ways To Choose
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When people are on the go, they don't want to carry more than two personal electronic devices: one in the pocket and one in the bag. When a third device crops up, it's because it addresses a shortcoming in one or both primary devices.

I've been saying this for more than a decade, as InformationWeek's Patrick Houston noted in his recent ode to the not-dead-yet PC. I believed in the two-device maxim when PDAs thrust their way onto the scene. I believed it when portable navigation devices began selling. And I still believed it as Apple prepared to bring the first media tablet to market.

These days, though, amidst the persistent flood of tablet shipments and pessimistic PC forecasts, I've had to defend my little two-device maxim like never before. Are we temporarily out of balance? Or is this the start of a new normal?

I'll spare you the suspense and cut right to the chase: We are out of balance. Personal device equilibrium still stands at two. That said, though, there's a distinct possibility that laptops and tablets will coexist for years, jostling for elbow room in over-crowded backpacks and briefcases across the globe. Whether they do--and for how long--hinges on the success or failure of Windows 8-based ultrabooks, which debut this fall.

Yes, I know that sounds like a cop-out. But it's not. Remember, devices show up to address a need that the two existing devices aren't serving. And we won't get back down to equilibrium before two devices can once again serve all of our needs.

Consider device equilibrium in the pocket, which has been out of whack for years. Many of us carry both smartphones and MP3 players (some of you may call these iPods), even though smartphones can bang out a playlist with the best of them. The reason: smartphones are power-hungry. If we let them take on all the functions they're capable of handling, their batteries would be dead by lunchtime. And then we wouldn't be able to use our telephones for, you know, telephony.

We'll keep carrying MP3 players until our smartphones can replace them--and still have some juice left when we're ready to call it a day.

Inside the bag, insufficient battery life was one of the biggest opportunities afforded to the tablet as well. There were others, though. Tablets are lighter than laptops, and the form factor is more conducive to lean-back activities like watching a video or reading a book. Tablets are generally more responsive than laptops, which makes them more accessible for in-and-out actions like checking an appointment or settling a debate with a quick Internet search.

To be sure, the PC ecosystem is responding. The combination of Intel's ultrabook initiative, Windows 8, touch, and other tablet-like benefits is sparking a blaze of design innovation that's bound to rekindle PC sales growth in the coming quarters.

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In the meantime, the march continues. Users are adopting tablets quickly, and that's changing behavior. The Consumer Electronics Association reported that 29% of connected consumers in the U.S. owned a media tablet at the end of the second quarter, compared to 20% just three months earlier. And according to a survey published in June, online purchases now happen more often on smartphones and tablets than on PCs.

Tablets are also changing user tastes, and that may be the biggest threat of all to the PC. (See InformationWeek's recent comparison of the rivals: Tablet Vs. Ultrabook: 10 Ways To Choose.) Indeed, tablets are conditioning users to demand more from their systems. And the PC ecosystem is responding. Laptops for sale this holiday season will be much more compelling than they were last year. Their batteries will last longer. The machines will be more responsive. And they'll be thinner and sleeker.

But will the holiday laptops be sleek, responsive, and power-miserly to an eye-popping degree? We'll see. One thing's for sure: laptops won't match tablets on any of those features.

That could backfire if the PC vendors aren't careful about how they market their ultrabooks. The holiday systems will need to be positioned as better laptops, not tablet competitors. If they take the latter road, they'll risk unfavorable comparisons in increasingly important areas.

Trust me: the last thing the PC vendors need at this point is to have their products viewed as fat iPads.

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Hal Elujah
Hal Elujah,
User Rank: Strategist
9/6/2012 | 9:27:27 PM
re: Intel's Plan To Make Laptops Sexy Again: Ultrabooks
I am an adjunct professor and am beginning to see more and more students bringing tablets to class for note-taking. Since I teach business writing, I am sure they also have PCs or Macs back in their dorms for "real" writing. What interests me is that even though one of the premises of the tablets was to get rid of keyboards, my students always pair their tablets with keyboards. Doesn't that turn the tablets into micro-ultra-macbooks or something?
User Rank: Ninja
8/23/2012 | 11:41:30 AM
re: Intel's Plan To Make Laptops Sexy Again: Ultrabooks
It is not about making them sexy again, it is only about making them expensive again, meaning increase the margins that companies can charge. On top of that, Intel is just expensive to begin with across the board. You can get comparable processing power from AMD for a fraction of the price.
User Rank: Ninja
8/22/2012 | 2:56:35 PM
re: Intel's Plan To Make Laptops Sexy Again: Ultrabooks
So Ultrabooks are just really copying the MacBook Air. They haven't made it yet. They may never make it entirely. So why not mention that machine here, as that's what Intel is aiming for?

Let's face it, o matter what you say, a motebook is never going to be equivelant to a tablet, that is, iPad, as we shouldn't be afraid to say the truth here. IPads are at the beginning of their life cycle, and have a long future of major upgrades ahead of them.

But notebooks have already, except for the gaming and 3D program crowds, reached a point in which performance is pretty good already. Longer battery use is the main area in which they need improvement. Whether that can be done while bringing weight down further remains to be seen.

But iPads will remain far more convenient as they become powerful enough to handle most everything a good notebook can.

I remember the days when laptops were heavy, had short battery life, and we're too weak for "real" computing. The only area in which iPads are being considered to be deficient is in power, and perhaps (just for some), the lack of a built-in keyboard, which is easily remedied.

If people continue to move to iPads, there may be nothing computer manufacturers can do about it. Win 8 isn't a solution, as I've yet to read a single article about it that wasn't more negative than positive.

It needs to be pointed out that in a recent survey, almost 35% of people buying an iPad are using them as their only computer, except for a smartphone, possibly. In addition, a number of large companies, and government agencies are supplying their people with iPads instead of notebooks, and reports from them are that the people are happier, and more efficient.

Steve Jobs, right before he came back to Apple, was asked what he would do if he did come back. His answer?

"I would milk the Mac for all it was worth, and then move on to the next big thing."

He did that. It's the iPad, after all, and it will change everything.
User Rank: Apprentice
8/21/2012 | 6:35:02 PM
re: Intel's Plan To Make Laptops Sexy Again: Ultrabooks
I just got back from a five day conference where I decided to bring my iPad 2 (with a bluetooth keyboard) and no laptop. Looking around the session rooms, it looked like maybe 30 or 40% of my fellow attendees who had a device with them had made the same choice. The iPad's battery lasted longer than the laptop's did the previous year -- I made zero pit stops for charging it during the day -- and if that weren't enough, it didn't kill my shoulder and it was easy to whip out to check something quickly, with no power-on time, and no embarrassing-in-a-quiet-room startup chime. Anything beyond its capabilities was handled by using remote access to get at my office desktop through an RDP app. The notes I took on Pages were easy to download on my desktop from the iCloud site and open in Word.

It was fantastic. Never going back to lugging a laptop through an airport.
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