Can Intel save the Ultrabook?

The price is coming down ....

LAS VEGAS -- Ultrabooks made a big splash at last year's CES, but sales over the course of 2012 were disappointing. Intel yesterday made a determined bid to change all that.

Craig Stice, an analyst at HIS iSuppli, said one reason Ultrabooks didn't gain much traction was the $1000 price tag. At a CES press conference yesterday, Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's PC client group, acknowledged this misstep, announcing that the company's manufacturing partners will soon roll out "dozens of platforms [priced] below $750," including touch-enabled devices for $599.

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MORE: Ultra-hyped ultrabooks ultra-flopped in 2012

In his analysis of what went wrong with Ultrabooks, Stice added that Intel never made clear to consumers exactly what an Ultrabook was or why it was better than a notebook or tablet.

Intel's Skaugen announced that the second-generation Ultrabooks would feature touchscreens and a convertible form factor, in addition to longer batter life.

Intel executives showed off a handful of convertible notebook/tablet Ultrabooks, including the Lenovo Yoga 11s, whose screen can be folded all the way around to take the traditional notebook, tablet, and tent-style form factors, and the Acer Aspire, whose screen can be detached from its keyboard to act as a 10-millimeter-thin Windows 8 tablet.

In terms of battery life, Intel delivered in this category, announcing that new, lower-power, third-generation processors shipping today will drop to 7 watts of power consumption. The previous generation consumed 15W, and many had expected the upcoming Haswell processor (which Skaugen said will launch within the next few months) to consume around 10W.

Skaugen showed a concept platform called Northscape that, even at 17 mm thin, boasted 13-hour battery life. The update is the largest increase in battery life Intel has ever made between two generations of the same processor, Skaugen said.

Much still needs to be done for Intel to climb out of the hole it dug itself into last year. Stice says marketing and advertising were particularly weak last year, for example. How Intel and its manufacturing partners handle that from here on out remains to be seen.

But it could be that Intel accomplished exactly what it set out to last year. Stice says the true value of the Ultrabook's release in 2012 can be better measured by its impact on the design of future devices than its first-year sales. Given the leaps that have been made since then, CES 2013 may one day be seen as a turning point for the Ultrabook.

Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter @ntwrkwrldneagle and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is

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Tags CESConfiguration / maintenanceCES-2013iSupplihardware systemsLenovointelData Centeracer ultrabookLenovo yogaCES 2013ultrabook cesintel ultrabook


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