Taking on opponents like the Tablet and the Netbook, the UltraBook is sweepingly ambitious and dazzlingly dangerous.There comes a time in every company’s life, when you need to take the bull by the horns. Playing safe is not an option, a safety harness must be dispensed with and almost everything that you do is fraught with blinding danger. Such is the gamble with the UltraBook. It’s the creation of a new breed, a completely new category of computing. And it’s taking on formidable opponents. It’s trying to take down the Tablet market, the large-screen smartphone, the Netbook and also the ultra-thin Notebook. Like I said – it’s sweepingly ambitious and dazzlingly dangerous.
Friends with Benefits
There’s a story to tell here and a story that has all the elements. Friendship, loyalty, betrayal, losses, risky manoeuvres and an ambitious world domination plan. Let me start from the start. Intel and Microsoft have always been friends, in fact more like friends with benefits, and have been sleeping together for a long, long time. Having hitched an extremely profitable ride together on the Windows PC platform, they both missed the bus completely on smartphones and Tablets. Intel took the worst hit as it was completely left out to dry as Microsoft repeatedly screwed up on Tablets and made mistake after mistake on the Windows Mobile platform.
Intel rivals AMD and ARM sucked up this space and basically Intel had nothing to show for it. Tablets and smartphones then started phase II of this; both up and started to cannibalise the very market Intel had dominated. Sales of Netbooks and Notebooks were being eroded in favour of the dazzling power of the Tablets and the continued onslaught of the smartphone. Intel needed to break this albatross gathering around its neck.
Enter the UltraBook, a from-the-ground-up reinvention of the Notebook. This is a serious piece of equipment and Intel owns it all. Intel announced a new platform, a new category, with specifications set only by it, a name trademarked only to it, a category that would use only its processors and a barrage of hardware manufacturers that would sing only to Intel’s tunes. The UltraBook would have the features of a Tablet, beat the lightness of the MacBook Air, dramatically reduce the price of premium ultra-thins and have the power of a desktop.
Nothing like it
Intel’s specifications for an UltraBook are jaw-dropping. It has to be ultra-thin (less than 20 mm and around 17 mm, which beats the pants off anything in the market right now), have amazing response time (thus requiring a Solid State hard drive, finally making SSDs mainstream), will have the instant-on capability of Tablets and a resume of two seconds or less (eventually it wants it to be instant flash on like smartphones). Battery life is a full day’s and will hit around 14 hours or so and the processor used will be the all-new uber-powerful Sandy Bridge now, and even more high-power-low-voltage iterations in the future. Unlike current Notebooks where you power on and then wait for things to update, ultraBooks will have an always connected experience where everything happens even when it’s asleep.
Thus your emails, your Facebook notifications, Twitter messages – all will be downloaded in the background and ready for you as soon as you hit the resume button. Form factor and build and materials used are all top notch. Glass trackpads, magnesium alloy bodies, backlit chicklet keyboards, full ports like USB 3.0 and HDMI – this is pretty much a super sweet machine. Then Intel completes the last piece of the puzzle. Prices will have to be kept below the magic $999 to start with and brought down to $599 in about a year or so. Intel then predicts that ultraBooks will own 40 per cent of the market. For so much machine and those specs and looks – I find that a very easy target and market share to achieve.m
But (yes, there is a major but here) there are roadblocks to these ambitions. Roadblocks that can derail the entire UltraBook dream. Specifying and owning a category doesn’t mean that hardware vendors will fall in line and do as you bid. This is where Intel had brainwave number two and set up a $300 million fund to assist in the R&D and development of the UltraBook. Yet, that may not be enough. Building these ultraBooks will be a costly proposition in the beginning and most of the brands want a share of marketing and subsidisation to be paid by Intel, as well as a lowering of the cost of the CPU. Another issue comes from the aggression of the Netbook market. Intel can’t ignore its earlier commitments and price points of $199 are on the cards for Netbooks with the new Intel Atom processors. This can hurt the UltraBook. Then there is the vicious onslaught from its rivals who also have similar plans and ambitions. These guys have tasted blood in other categories and are all set for the kill in the Notebook world too.
This is a mouth-watering new category and one that must see the light of day. It’s a consumer dream machine and an idea whose time has come. Intel must continue to not only take the bull by the horns, but also wrestle it to the ground. From the dust of that battle shall emerge the next generation of computing. The UltraBook!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.
Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni
From HT Brunch, August 21
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch