Intel shows off hybrids: Ultrabooks that turn into tablets

Intel is taking on the burgeoning tablet market by working on hybrid ultrabooks that look and act like both laptops and tablets.

A day before the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) officially opens here, Intel executives Monday talked about their plans for ultrabooks and said that many of the world's biggest PC manufacturers would be unveiling ultrabooks equipped with Intel's upcoming Core processor Ivy Bridge.

Eric Reid, general manager of Intel's mobile client platforms, told Computerworld that he doesn't have a specific number, but has heard that about 25 to 30 ultrabooks will be unveiled this week.

Reid also said 75 ultrabooks will be released this year, with most of them coming out around the middle of the year when Intel's upcoming Core processor code-named Ivy Bridge, successors to the Sandy Bridge processors, become available.

"There were some designs we were able to bring to market quickly on Sandy Bridge, and another wave of designs will come later on with Ivy Bridge chips," he added.

According to Reid, ultrabooks are "job one" for Intel this year.

Intel is behind the big push for ultrabooks -- Intel coined and trademarked the term -- as a way to fire up the PC market and do battle with netbooks, tablets and Apple's popular, high-end lightweight laptop, the MacBook Air .

No matter who builds them, all ultrabooks, as defined by Intel, can weigh no more than 3.1 pounds, will measure no more than 0.8 inches thick, and will offer five to eight or more hours of battery life. They also will have flash-based storage and will use Intel's Rapid Start Technology for fast boot times.

"They come out of sleep or hibernate in less than five seconds," Reid said. "In the time it takes you to hit the power button on, you can take a sip of coffee, put your cup down and your computer is up and running."

Mooly Eden, general manager of the PC client group at Intel, told the CES audience that various PC makers are working on outfitting their ultrabooks with touchscreens, voice control and gesture recognition.

Eden and a parade of Intel employees showed off various ultrabooks and ultrabook prototypes that use touchscreens.

Intel, for instance, showed one ultrabook that looks and functions like a laptop. However, with a few twists of the screen, the laptop transforms into a tablet with a touchscreen.

The company also demonstrated an ultrabook outfitted with a transparent touchscreen. When the laptop is closed, it can be used as a tablet.

"Nothing in how you interact with your PC has changed in the past 30 years," Reid said. "We're giving you new ways of interaction -- touch, gesture and voice."

And Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, liked the ideas. "The Intel camp is looking to hook users on a hybrid experience, coupling the flexible ease-of-use of a touch-screen tablet with a full keyboarded laptop," Olds said. "It's a good combination and mostly captures the best of both worlds."

Reid said ultrabooks are not about Intel's going after the popular tablet markets. Instead, he said it's all about creating excitement in the PC market.

Olds, however, says ultrabooks, especially the hybrid machines, have a good shot at taking a chunk out of the tablet market.

"New PC form factors always attract attention, of course. But there are new features and functionality here too," Olds said. "The small size coupled with ultrafast boot times and long battery life should, if everything works as advertised, convince a significant number of potential tablet buyers to go ultrabook."

Intel's Eden said users can expect the devices to not only get smaller but also less expensive as more ultrabooks reach the market.

"People want a mainstream price point and [for high-end computers to] not just be available for the top 5% of the population," Eden said. "Our target is to make the prices much lower."

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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