CES Will Be Thick With Thin Ultrabooks
Ultrabooks appear to be the anointed star product category of CES 2012. The super-thin notebook computers are being pushed by Intel as well as several of its hardware partners. Ultrabooks emphasize design, performance and a degree of affordability, but will consumers bite?
Ultrabooks will make a strong showing at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), to be held in Las Vegas Jan. 10-13, with Intel and several computer vendor partners demoing products.
"The new category is already gaining momentum, with many Ultrabooks powered by second-generation Intel Core processors in the market today, and more than 60 designs already under way for 2012," Intel spokesperson Becky Emmett told TechNewsWorld.
"[Ultrabooks] are an attractive product and very portable," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "The intention is to push them [into the] mainstream."
"The shipment of Windows 8 ... will put tablet features into Ultrabook-like products, and tablets may become redundant," Enderle suggested.
People "don't want to carry multiple large devices," and Ultrabooks will gain tablet-like features such as touch, Enderle explained.
What's an Ultrabook?
Intel announced the Ultrabook category at Computex in Taipei in May, and it has trademarked the term.
Ultrabooks are intended to be less than 0.8 inches (21 mm) thin and are priced at levels Intel describes as "mainstream."
The first Ultrabooks, based on second-generation Intel Core processors, nicknamed "Sandy Bridge," hit the market in 2011. Many Ultrabooks to be announced at CES 2012 will be powered by the third-generation Intel Core processor, nicknamed "Ivy Bridge." They will be availability in systems in Spring, Intel's Emmett said.
These will be followed in 2013 by Ultrabooks powered by the fourth-generation Intel Core processor, nicknamed "Haswell," Emmett stated.
To the Bridge
Ivy Bridge processors are the first to incorporate Intel's 3D Tri-Gate transistor. This transistor uses three gates wrapped around the silicon channel in three dimensions, making for high performance and energy efficiency.
The 3D Tri-Gate transistors use Intel's 22nm Atom microarchitecture. Future system on a chip (SoC) products based on these transistors will come in at below 1 mW of idle power.
SoCs (systems on a chip) integrate all components of an electronic system, such as a computer, into one chip. They may include digital, analog, and mixed-signal functions, as well as a graphics processing unit.
Marketing Sizzle or Real Muscle?
Demand for Ultrabooks has reportedly been weak. Acer and Asus, which both launched the first generation of these devices in 2011, apparently had to slash orders by 40 percent because of this.
"This is a price-sensitive market, and neither vendor did much marketing," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "The market won't move to Ultrabooks unless motivated to do so by strong marketing or a more attractive price."
Manufacturers of the first generation of Ultrabooks, which debuted in 2011, had reportedly refused to begin work until Intel increased subsidies from a US$300 million Ultrabook Fund that Intel Capital had set up in August to help boost work on Ultrabooks.
They apparently needed the boost to keep prices under the $1,000 mark.
However, reports that Intel is offering a subsidy for Ultrabooks are "completely false," company spokesperson Emmett stated.
"We are working very closely with our customers to ensure that Ultrabooks deliver a compelling and unique value proposition to customers," Emmett said. Intel will "focus [its] global marketing resources on the creation, growth and acceleration of the new category."
The Ultrabook Fund's purpose is to "invest in companies building hardware and software technologies focused on enhancing how people interact with Ultrabooks," according to Intel.
Buying habits show "there is a need and desire for high-performance mobile devices at many price points," Emmett suggested.
Strong marketing "can get people to buy upmarket if they find the product compelling, and Ultrabooks have this potential," Enderle remarked.
However, as a parts maker, Intel "isn't well positioned to market a product because [it] can't focus down on [a device from any one manufacturer]," Enderle pointed out.
Ultrabooks could comprise eight percent of the notebook market in 2012, Brian Marshall, an analyst at the ISI Group, predicted in a note to investors in December.