At its Solution Summit 2012 keynote address Monday, Intel announced plans to launch more than 50 new Ultrabook models by the end of year and focus many of those models at business users.
The chip giant also expressed a new determination to extend the reach of its ultra-thin notebook form factor from the consumer to the commercial market -- and to arm its channel partners for that shift.
Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC Client Group, told solution providers there are 18 Ultrabook models on the market today. By the end of 2012, the company is committed to ensuring there are at least 75. And some of them, he said, may look different than some of the form factor’s earlier renditions.
"We will get into incredibly new form factors, and we will continue to shrink them," Skaugen told partners.
Questions about the Ultrabook specs have loomed since the concept was first introduced, particularly around storage components. But as a first step, Intel plans to launch Ultrabook models hosting more space-conscious solid state drives (SSDs) rather than the traditional hard drives found in many models today, and also to shrink battery size from 18 mm to 6.5 mm. Non-aesthetic updates, such as reducing standby power by 20 percent, are also in the works, Skaugen said.
While innovations such as these – particularly the use of the more costly SSD – have potential to drive up Ultrabook prices, Skaugen said that the $300 Million Intel Capital Ultrabook Fund announced in August will help OEMs avoid too hefty of a jump.
The Ultrabook's traditional notebook or "clamshell" form factor may itself undergo a transformation this year. Skaugen showed off two new convertible designs that serve as both a tablet and a notebook, theoretically eliminating the need for users to buy both. When closed, the device touts a fully touch-enabled screen, and when opened, users have access to the more traditional keyboard experience. (Lenovo introduced such a convertible Ultrabook, the IdeaPad Yoga , at CES 2012 earlier this year.)
"This is where things are going," he said. "You will get the best of the clamshell, but also the tablet."
The Ultrabook market, along with its form factor and technical specs, is evolving. What started as a primarily consumer-targeted device will soon be made more business-friendly, with the addition this year of Intel vPro technology to ensure enterprise-level security and manageability, Skaugen said. The consumerization of IT has revealed a growing need for ultra-portable devices in the enterprise and, like tablets, Ultrabooks can meet that demand.
And with the introduction of Intel’s new third-generation Ivy Bridge processors next quarter, Ultrabook manageability, battery life, and overall performance will be more suited than ever to meet business users' needs, Skaugen explained.
Sometime in April, Intel will launch an Ultrabook marketing campaign bigger than anything it’s done since the 2003 launch of its Centrino processors, the company said. Details of exactly how and when the chip maker plans to make its next big Ultrabook push were not disclosed.
But C.J. Bruno, vice president of Intel’s Sales and Marketing Group, later told CRN that the initiative will involve really "fun and interactive" marketing methods the company has never used before.
"You will see us very heavily online, and very heavily in social media and in broader channels as well," Bruno said.
Intel said channel partners are poised to benefit from the Ultrabook's expanding footprint – especially into SMBs and the enterprise. To prep partners for the form factor's move into the corporate world, Skaugen said that Intel is taking steps to ensure solution providers are fully familiar with the device’s enterprise value proposition.
Skaugen ended his address by driving home the point that the Ultrabook movement is just beginning, and that through “2013 and beyond,” Intel will continue to reshape and rethink the ultra-portable form factor.
“We will redefine what computers are,” Skaugen said. “And we will scream from the mountain tops that we are doing so.”