Understanding Ultrabooks

By Jayesh Shinde | Published on 25 Apr 2012
Understanding Ultrabooks

Ultrabooks are all the rage in the laptop and personal computing market right now.

Intel has a huge stake in the business, since all ultrabooks – whether they’re from Acer, Asus, Dell, HPLenovo or Samsung -- only use Intel’s chips inside.

In fact, Intel expects ultrabooks to occupy around 40% of the total laptops launched in 2012. We conversed with Karen Regis, Intel’s Director of Ultrabook Marketing Strategy, to get insights about the big picture.

Following excerpts from our interview:

1) Laptops vs netbooks vs ultrabooks -- what’s the difference between them?

There are many types of mobile devices for consumers these days, and it’s important for buyers to understand the differences between them to make sure they choose the right device for their needs. Netbooks are great for content consumption and light productivity and offer the most affordable price points. Ultrabooks are for users looking for a full PC experience in an ultra sleek, ultra stylish design. They have the horsepower for just about any productivity task, but also provide great battery life, the ability to wake up in a flash and built-in security – all at mainstream system price points.

2) In many ways, the netbook segment was a much bigger breakthrough (from a technical perspective) than all the hype surrounding ultrabooks, which is just natural evolution of laptops. Would you agree that the term ultrabook is a marketing gimmick?

Intel expects Ultrabook devices to be as transformational to mobile computing as Intel Centrino Mobile technology was more than eight years ago. Remember, Intel’s vision for the Ultrabook entails a multi-year, industry-wide endeavor that will roll out in phases with new experiences and features added over time. It’s about driving innovation and integrating capabilities that users want and may not even know yet that they need – much like Centrino helped make Wi-Fi a must-have in laptops. Some of the nearer term innovations we expect to see include hybrid devices (both tablet and laptop functionality) as well as technologies like touch and sensors. Intel is committed to the Ultrabook category, and we’re seeing very strong support from our partners as well.

3) This is the first time since 2003 and Centrino chips that Intel is promoting a product such aggressively in the market. Why are ultrabooks so important? How do they feature in Intel’s roadmap?

Yes, on April 4, we announced our new Ultrabook marketing campaign, Intel’s largest in nearly a decade. The global campaign theme is how Intel-inspired Ultrabooks are ushering in “a new era of computing” – making everything else seem like ancient history/old fashioned compared to an Ultrabook.

The creation of the Ultrabook category was shaped by extensive user research and reflects what users value most in a mobile device – a no-compromise, most complete, satisfying and more secure computing experience. We are very excited about this category and are looking ahead to our Ivy Bridge and Haswell platforms to continue to evolve and bring new capabilities to Ultrabook devices in the next several years.

4) How do you respond to the criticism that the ultrabook is a desperate attempt to rekindle excitement among laptops, more importantly among consumers more keen on buying a tablet?

Worldwide PC unit shipments continue to grow at double-digit rates. This is one of the reasons for Intel’s recent record revenues and earnings. We believe that PCs will continue to play a key role in people’s personal computing needs.

At the same time, people have rapidly evolving requirements for personal computing in terms of responsiveness, capabilities, increased security and mobility. Intel aims to help drive these changes. Whether it’s a tablet, PC, Ultrabook or hybrids we aim to deliver great experiences that satisfy people’s needs, no matter what the device.

5) Is an ultrabook a poor man’s MacBook Air?

Intel’s vision for Ultrabook devices entails a multi-year, industry-wide endeavor that will roll out in phases where new experiences and features will be added over time. Intel aims with the Ultrabook category to deliver new experiences that people want and will love. Devices coming in the future will blend the best of the laptop experience with aspects of other consumer electronic devices.

7) We’ve tested majority of the ultrabooks so far and they all offer close to 5 hours of battery life on a single charge. How has Intel managed to do this -- make thin ultrabooks last longer than fatter laptops with bigger and better batteries?

Great battery life is one of the requirements to be called an Ultrabook. Ultrabook devices offer at least 5 hours of battery life with many providing 8 hours or more, even in the sleekest form factors. In general, we expect to see greater use of Lithium polymer batteries (such as are used in phones) in Ultrabook devices. Intel is focused on driving innovations in battery design and technology in the industry to continually improve the user experience in terms of ever better battery life in ever more attractive designs. This is one of the focus areas of the Ultrabook Fund (read more here).

8) Regarding OEMs and various partners, is Intel laying down minimum specifications for ultrabooks to ensure a standard benchmark for end user experience?

Intel works closely with its industry partners to ensure that Ultrabook devices consistently deliver a compelling and unique value proposition to customers. In order for a system to be classified as an Ultrabook and use the Ultrabook trademark, a certain set of guidelines must be followed. The guidelines may evolve over time as new capabilities come to market. A verification process is in place to help ensure the consistent and outstanding experience we aim to deliver.

9) What are some of the main challenges that may hinder ultrabooks from completely dominating the personal computing market?

We’re thrilled with the reception to Ultrabook devices so far. There’s already been a lot of enthusiasm around the category. We believe there will continue to be a spectrum of types of products with different capabilities and features that meet consumers’ varying needs. There will always be users, though, who are looking for companion devices, like a netbook, to complement their Ultrabook or laptop. There are also those who value certain features more. For example, a gamer may want a desktop system with maximum performance. Or a road warrior may value weight and size as the top feature. We value choice and a spectrum of options for all types of users.

10) This year marks Intel’s first steps into the tablet and smartphone market with Medfield chips. How important is this market to Intel and how does it affect sales of ultrabooks?

I’m not the right person to comment on Medfield, but what I can tell you is that whether it’s a tablet, PC, phone or Ultrabook Intel aims to deliver great experiences that satisfy people’s needs, no matter what the device.

12) How committed is Intel to the future of ultrabooks beyond the upcoming Ivy Bridge architecture?

Intel’s vision for Ultrabook devices entails a multi-year, industry-wide endeavor that will roll out in phases where new experiences and features will be added over time:

A) Intel’s latest Ultra-Low Voltage 2nd generation Intel Core processors started the transition to Ultrabook systems by enabling a new class of thin, light, beautiful designs with mainstream price points. Many systems are available today.

B) 3rd generation Intel Core processors (codenamed “Ivy Bridge”), Intel’s next generation chip, is scheduled for availability very soon. Ultrabook systems based on this new family of processors will bring improved power efficiency, smart visual performance, increased responsiveness and enhanced security. Complimentary USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt technologies are also part of Intel’s ongoing work to drive the PC platform forward.

C) “Haswell” is the third step toward accelerating the category of Ultrabook devices. With “Haswell,” Intel will change the mainstream laptop thermal design point by reducing microprocessor power to 10-20 watts – half of today’s design point.

All answers attributed to Karen Regis, Intel’s Director of Ultrabook Marketing Strategy.

Jayesh Shinde

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