Intel Planning $599 Ultrabooks By Holiday Season

At the Intel Solutions Summit (ISS) 2013 last week in Los Angeles, the company promised that new Ultrabooks based on the upcoming fourth-generation Core processors, code-named Haswell, will arrive by the holiday season and come with a starting price of $599.

Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, told an audience of top Intel partners that new Ultrabooks will not only feature lower price points but also more compelling features. Skaugen said early Ultrabooks were "just a retrofit of what was already in the market," but promised new Haswell-based models will require touch-screen support and offer faster solid-state drives, higher-resolution displays, voice recognition and facial recognition technology, and "all-day" battery life.

[Related: Intel PC Group Chief: 10-inch Tablet Will 'Rapidly Erode' ]

"We designed this chip from the ground up for the Ultrabook," Skaugen said. "You'll truly be able to leave your [Ultrabook] battery pack at home."

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And while Ultrabooks are getting new features and better performance, the prices are still coming down. Intel originally positioned the ultraslim notebooks as premium mobile computing devices similar to Apple's MacBook Air with an average price point of around a $1,000. In addition, Intel last year unleashed its biggest branding campaign in more than a decade to promote Ultrabooks following the unveiling of several models from Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Dell and Samsung at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.

But in a dreary PC market, Ultrabooks failed to make as big an impact as expected. Market research firm IHS iSuppli last fall slashed its 2012 Ultrabook sales forecast from 22 million units shipped at the beginning of the year to just 10.3 million. The analyst firm also cut its forecast for 2013 from 61 million units shipped to 44 million.

IHS iSuppli said Ultrabooks are competing for business against tablets -- not MacBook Airs, which start at $999 -- and therefore prices for the ultrathin notebooks needed to fall from the $1,000 level to around $600.

Intel executives at ISS 2013 insisted the company isn't trying to cheapen Ultrabooks because of soft sales. C.J. Bruno, vice president of Intel Americas, said component costs have come down and therefore Intel and its OEM partners are able to build more affordable Ultrabooks with richer features.

"It's about affordability," Bruno said. "It's not a race to the bottom."