Intel Readies Ultrabook Blitz, But Questions Loom

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Intel wants 2012 to be the year of the Ultrabook, and
the chip maker is poised to pump millions of dollars into its biggest marketing campaign in nearly a decade to achieve that goal.

Judging by the number of OEM devices at CES last month, the Ultrabook is well on its way to becoming a household name. But the variety of Ultrabooks that flooded Las Vegas has also led to questions about the category's pricing, technical specifications, and enterprise-readiness.

Intel spent much of the week during CES promoting its Ultrabook brand, along with a host of OEM partners -- HP, Lenovo, Dell and Samsung to name just a few -- with new, ultra-thin notebooks to show off. And unlike the chip maker's Netbook product category, Intel has set its sights on much bigger goals for the Ultrabook; instead of simply introducing a lower-cost laptop model, Intel wants to re-energize and revolutionize the PC.

"We're evolving the PC to be ultra-portable, ultra-responsive, and totally without compromise," Intel CEO Paul Otellini said during his CES keynote. "There's an awful lot of excitement around Ultrabooks."

Otellini said more than a dozen Ultrabook systems are currently shipping, with more than 60 additional models in the pipeline for this year. The spotlight on the Ultrabook has led to some inevitable questions, the first of which is: what is the definition of an Ultrabook?

According to Intel, an Ultrabook must be less than 21 mm or 0.8-inches thick and weigh less than 3.1 pounds, with a minimum of five hours of battery life. And of course, it must feature Intel technology, specifically second-generation Sandy Bridge Core processors (and third-generation Ivy Bridge processors in the near future) and accompanying features like Intel's Rapid Start Technology for faster boot and wake-up times and embedded security features (Intel's Anti-Theft Technology and Identity Protection Technology).

But noticeably absent from Intel's Ultrabook guidelines are parameters for storage, disc drives and display resolutions. And while Intel has stated that Ultrabooks should be priced around $1,000, prices have already begun to fluctuate wildly, from as low as $800 to $1,500 or more.

For example, HP's first Ultrabook, the Folio 13, is priced at $899 while the newly-unveiled Envy 14 Spectre is listed at $500 more. Even in the early stages of the Ultrabook's existence, Intel faces some challenges in bringing a cohesive, succinct message to both the commercial and consumer markets.

Intel, however, is welcoming the variety of specifications, designs and price points and isn't concerned the loose guidelines for Ultrabooks will create confusion. "The Ultrabook is storage agnostic – you can have an HDD or SSD," said Anand Lakshmanan, Intel Ultrabook marketing manager. "Some users may want lighter and thinner, and some may want more storage capacity, so we offer both."

That leeway also goes for screen size, too. "When we started out, we focused on the 13-inch model," he said. "But we've gotten a lot of feedback from different regions and cultures that requested 14-inch and 15-inch displays or even larger ones."

In short, Lakshmanan said the chip maker doesn't want too many restrictive guidelines to force OEM partners into churning out cookie-cutter designs (after all, Intel created the Ultrabook to reinvigorate PC innovation, not stifle it). "We're very excited. We've never had this kind of computing power in this kind of thin form factor," he said. "And it's not just about Intel -- this is about OEM and component makers and application developers, too."

OEM partners are also excited -- to a certain point.
"We're definitely positive about the direction of the Ultrabook," said Scott Ledterman, director of mobile PC marketing at Samsung Enterprise Business Division. "I think the PC market has gotten complacent in recent years, and the Ultrabook is moving people toward more innovative and sexier PCs, which is a good thing. In time, I think Ultrabooks will influence the entire PC industry."

But Ledterman isn't sure that influence will translate to big sales.

"Will Ultrabooks be a huge percentage of volume for the industry?" he asked. "No, I don't believe that will be the case."

Next: Vendors Weigh In On Ultrabook Expectations

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