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Intel's Calculated Gamble

Ultrabook: Behind How Intel is Remaking Mobile Computing
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Prior to 2011, had anyone asked for gesture- and voice-based computing on notebooks? No one that I know of. Yet here it is, and one has at least to admire the audacity, right or wrong, required by Intel to push such functionality at a public wholly unused to such functionality in this device class. The decision was informed, but it’s by no means a sure bet.

“When we did Centrino, we based its definition on extensive mobile user research,” notes Karen Regis. “Yet there wasn’t anything in our research that said specifically that users want wireless capability in their notebooks, right? It’s drawing out the insights. We knew that people want freedom and flexibility, and we knew that wireless, while a heavy lift, would provide that freedom and flexibility in ways that mobile users hadn’t yet imagined. We knew wireless could fundamentally change the way that people interacted with their laptop PCs—and it did.”

Guessing what people will want before they know they want it and pushing it to be the de facto standard in the industry. Sound familiar? It sure has that Steve Jobs ring to it.

“We think that this new wave of ways to interact with your technology is going to make how we are working with PCs today seem really old fashion really fast,” adds Regis. “Touch and gesture specifically make a lot of sense to start with all-in-one designs. People might be in the kitchen or your hands might be dirty. You need to adjust something on-screen, but you don’t want to touch anything. Voice and gesture could play there. Voice on an Ultrabook makes absolute sense to us. We are going to enable all of this capability across our whole product line.”

If the first half of the Ultrabook effort was about form factor, the second is about sensor-driven functionality. Intel holds my dream of near-perfect speech recognition in its sights and is working with Dell on a pilot based on a revamped Dragon engine, but don’t expect to hear a lot of noise around this. Intel is taking things slowly and cautiously, because, in a way, Ultrabook is a make or break deal.

For a couple of years starting in 2003, AMD handed Intel a stunning reversal of fortunes in the server market when Opteron debuted with an indisputably superior architecture. It took two to three years for Intel to recover and retake its lead. Today, the situation with client devices is highly analogous. Apple, Qualcomm, ARM, and all of the other ultramobile heavyweights quickly and quietly brushed netbooks off the map and bifurcated personal computing into two modes: consumption and production. Seemingly while the company slept, Intel lost its grip on the consumption side of the consumer market.

Ultrabook is in part a push to reenergize the laptop market. It needed it, no argument. Of course, that will help Intel sell more mobile CPUs. But that’s the small picture. The big picture is that Intel must win with Ultrabook in order to reunite those consumption and production halves of the market and halt the landslide of mobile market share tumbling toward non-Intel consumption devices. Ultrabook aims to make its platform so compelling that, frankly, you’d be a fool to consider an under-performing, over-priced, feature-limited high-end tablet.

That day is not today. It probably won’t even arrive by December. But if I was a betting man, I’d put my money on sometime in 2015. By then, the right hardware will have been integrated, economies of scale will have sunk in, and developers will have exploited the new capabilities in thousands of mind-blowing ways.

“Is it a slam dunk?” laughs Rob DeLine. “No, I’m not George Tenet telling George Bush that it was a slam dunk to go into Iraq. Nothing like that. But normally, Intel would do a technology development and then just throw it out there and hope that the horizontal ecosystem would pick it up. Or we would say that it needs to be on 300 platforms on the day of launch, every local language supported, and...nothing happens. We’re taking a fundamentally different approach with this that gives it a much, much higher probability of success. But we have to take the right steps so that, when we look back 24 months from now, we will have had the right journey.”

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  • 11 Hide
    techtalk , August 1, 2013 9:33 PM
    I am just half way through the article. I am compelled to comment here. "What an Article" Amazingly well written, superb flow and great content.
Other Comments
  • 11 Hide
    techtalk , August 1, 2013 9:33 PM
    I am just half way through the article. I am compelled to comment here. "What an Article" Amazingly well written, superb flow and great content.
  • 4 Hide
    outlw6669 , August 2, 2013 4:09 AM
    Quote:
    The battery always comes out first.


    Words to live by.
    RIP brave little Ultrabook.
  • 5 Hide
    zodiacfml , August 2, 2013 5:05 AM
    Nice Toms. It's so good....I wanted to read more.
  • 0 Hide
    nibir2011 , August 2, 2013 5:12 AM
    Quote:
    Ultrabook aims to make its platform so compelling that, frankly, you’d be a fool to consider an under-performing, over-priced, feature-limited high-end tablet.


    It will be only possible if Intel and AMD goes hand in hand. Mobile sector is so lucrative to OEM that eventually they will go there until there is a great product. If intel only thinks about their own business then it will be like what microsoft did to desktop. No software developers do not want to make consumer application, as app developing is business friendly.

    It has to be a joint collaboration.
  • -1 Hide
    nibir2011 , August 2, 2013 5:31 AM
    Quote:
    Ultrabook aims to make its platform so compelling that, frankly, you’d be a fool to consider an under-performing, over-priced, feature-limited high-end tablet.


    It will be only possible if Intel and AMD goes hand in hand. Mobile sector is so lucrative to OEM that eventually they will go there until there is a great product. If intel only thinks about their own business then it will be like what microsoft did to desktop. No software developers do not want to make consumer application, as app developing is business friendly.

    It has to be a joint collaboration.
  • -9 Hide
    kartu , August 2, 2013 8:12 AM
    Huge, fictional article on what is supposed to be a tech site.

    Everyone has a notebook. Most of them are more than fast enough.
    Now what can a company that excels only at CPUs do about that?

    It sure takes a genius to notice that people like lighter thinner thingies, right.
    I'm sure Steve Jobbs (I guess that's The Genius to the article's author) absolutely had to take part in this astonishingly far sighted decision to go lighter and thiner, it is soo far sighted, nobody else could have imagined that.

    People prefer thinner and lighter, cooler looking things... What a frucking surprise...
  • 3 Hide
    williamvw , August 2, 2013 9:34 AM
    Quote:
    Huge, fictional article on what is supposed to be a tech site.


    Fictional. I'm not sure that word means what you think it means.

    Quote:
    Everyone has a notebook. Most of them are more than fast enough. Now what can a company that excels only at CPUs do about that?


    That is an excellent question. You may wish to review pages 1 through 6 for answers. Pages 10 through 13 aren't bad, either. None of the content in them is fictitious, in case you remain unsure.

    Quote:
    People prefer thinner and lighter, cooler looking things... What a frucking surprise...


    Thank you for your input. Your skepticism is even more warranted than it is well-stated. Of course, just because people want things doesn't mean that those things actually exist. Or are affordable. Or can be serviced. I mean, at least that's the case in the real world. In fictional scenarios, where the Tooth Fairy delivers ultralight notebooks from the future, tiny companies can move product ecosystems with the same ability and effectiveness as large ones, and unicorns soar majestically through pink and purple treetops, I suppose anything is possible. In the real world, though, this article describes how things actually get done.
  • 1 Hide
    superduper , August 2, 2013 9:59 AM
    Although a well written article, I still have reservations regarding some of the context:

    The battery life "ballooning" had very little to do with Ultrabooks but rather silicon that was more frugal, particularly at idle and the density of battery packs. Your average Ultrabook often sacrifices Li-Polymer battery capacity to remain thin and svelte (MBA an exception). As a result, the 35W notebook with the bigger battery will get better battery life than the 17W ULV (vast majority of computing is spent at idle).

    The facial and speech recognition software seems very nifty, but it's still not something that's an Ultrabook specialty. The software is available to tablets and smartphones as well (the Moto X uses a specialized core specifically to handle the speech recognition).

    I'm far more interested in what Intel is looking to offer in 2015 for the Ultrabook platform than I am about the rather weak software additions that don't differentiate it. What is Intel going to offer me in exchange for the extra $200-$300 dollars out of my pocket for an Ultrabook? What am I getting beside a thinner chassis to warrant that much cash? In some ways, to me it seems like Intel and its OEMs have become victims of their own success. The Ultrabook is there to revive some lost sales to the mobile market, but outside of a higher price tag and a dedicated keyboard, I don't see what the bonuses are.
  • 2 Hide
    williamvw , August 2, 2013 10:24 AM
    Quote:
    Although a well written article, I still have reservations regarding some of the context:

    The battery life "ballooning" had very little to do with Ultrabooks but rather silicon that was more frugal, particularly at idle and the density of battery packs. Your average Ultrabook often sacrifices Li-Polymer battery capacity to remain thin and svelte (MBA an exception). As a result, the 35W notebook with the bigger battery will get better battery life than the 17W ULV (vast majority of computing is spent at idle).

    The facial and speech recognition software seems very nifty, but it's still not something that's an Ultrabook specialty. The software is available to tablets and smartphones as well (the Moto X uses a specialized core specifically to handle the speech recognition).

    I'm far more interested in what Intel is looking to offer in 2015 for the Ultrabook platform than I am about the rather weak software additions that don't differentiate it. What is Intel going to offer me in exchange for the extra $200-$300 dollars out of my pocket for an Ultrabook? What am I getting beside a thinner chassis to warrant that much cash? In some ways, to me it seems like Intel and its OEMs have become victims of their own success. The Ultrabook is there to revive some lost sales to the mobile market, but outside of a higher price tag and a dedicated keyboard, I don't see what the bonuses are.


    Excellent points, and I agree with all of them. You are absolutely correct about the battery issue. Intel has no influence that I know of over Li-Ion battery efficiency; it can only try to reduce the platform's drain on the battery that's there. That was the company's challenge: how to get every component to consume less power. Obviously, some have more leeway than others.

    I also share your curiosity about 2015, as I indicated in the conclusion. It might be fair to say that if Centrino's mission was to cut the Ethernet cord, Ultrabook's (at least initial) mission is to cut the power cord. The thinner and lighter business just goes along for the ride.

    To be totally honest, 2012 Ultrabooks were not enough to interest me. It wasn't different enough from what I already owned. But you have to start somewhere and implement change in stages. The first design that really grabbed me was the Yoga. The convertible thing works for me and my needs, and the design is superior to, say, a tablet wrapped in a keyboard case.

    Your big question, of course, comes back to MIPS, and this is really a religious issue. Do we want our MIPS in the cloud or on our lap? There are good arguments both ways. Obviously, Intel's substantial PC group prefers them in our lap. My daily struggles with Google Voice tell me that this is a worthwhile thing. Now, if carriers improve and whatnot, and I'm able to get the same class of perceptual computing performance from the cloud on my phone that I can get on my lap in an Ultrabook, I think the weight of judgment must finally fall in the cloud's favor. It's more efficient on all counts. (I'm ignoring security concerns for the sake of argument.) But when I'm using my phone to compose notes or story chapters or whatever, which I do every day, then all I care about is accuracy, speed, and my total productivity. If the Ultrabook effort fosters a notebook ecosystem in which I can get better results for my needs from a two-pound convertible, then I'm all about the convertible and totally behind Ultrabook. I'm selfish that way.

    In short, we may find that the Ultrabooks of 2015 don't offer you enough extra value to justify your extra $200 or $300. However, I'd wager that at least some of the benefits you will enjoy in your non-Ultrabook, mainstream laptop of 2015 would not exist at their then-current level of development without Intel having made the investments in Ultrabook I've described in this article.

    And what if Google and Apple and whomever manage to saw Intel's legs off and leave the notebook paradigm in the dust? Well, that's how it goes. The market decides what has value and what doesn't. That trend has already started. The question now is whether it will continue.
  • 5 Hide
    williamvw , August 2, 2013 2:49 PM
    Quote:
    How much did Intel pay you to write this ? , we all know that ultra books sales are below freezing

    Oh, my gosh -- ANOTHER accusation of bribery! How novel! Well, since you managed to deduce that much on your own, geeze, lemme think... How much did they offer to pay me? Oh, I remember! It was http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DJtHL3NV1o!!! Because that's how globe-spanning $115 billion companies get to $120 billion, by putting their reputations on the line and bribing little journalists like me to write articles about historical developments just like this one.
  • 4 Hide
    williamvw , August 2, 2013 3:52 PM
    Quote:
    I liked your answer , problem is that Intel is abusing it's monopoly by overpricing stuff because they can and this is pissing me off bad , there's a lot of people that also feel like this. So until this issue settles, seeing pro Intel articles here makes for bad digestion.


    Do you mean Ultrabooks? Because I'm sure you're aware that Intel has no control over how OEMs price their notebooks. Otherwise, Ultrabooks would have launched at $599 in 2011 so that everyone would buy them and sales wouldn't be, as you say, below freezing. And if Intel does have control over notebook pricing, why do MacBooks cost so much -- and keep gaining market share? Sorry, I don't get the logic.

    AMD makes a decent notebook platform. I own one. Tough to argue monopoly there. Atom in netbooks was godawful, and as soon as tablets arrived -- none of which had Intel in them -- nobody bought netbooks. Tough to argue monopoly there.

    I know it's fun and occasionally stylish to bash on the market leader, and there's a useful role for that in preserving constructive criticism in the market. But totally blowing off the positive things the company is doing because it somehow, magically, impossibly managed not only to overprice all of the "stuff" but persuaded every OEM to mark it up to unbuyable levels that somehow, magically, people (except you) still pay...well. Come on.

    Bottom line: Look at netbooks. If Ultrabooks didn't merit their prices, people wouldn't buy them. It's that simple. The idea of monopoly is erroneous and irrelevant here.

  • -1 Hide
    selfmade_exe , August 4, 2013 3:22 AM
    Intel is "remaking" mobile computing??? MY BEHIND! AMD has already done it with APUs! From mid-range pc down to tablets, AMD is way ahead! Hands down!
  • 1 Hide
    nekromobo , August 4, 2013 8:00 AM
    How do you think the new Sony Vaio Pro fits into this and when are you going to review it? :) 
  • 0 Hide
    teh_chem , August 6, 2013 6:06 AM
    I'm personally awaiting options like the Samsung Ativ Q to become more prevalent. Windows-Android hybrid (technically, Android runs virtualized within the Windows environment).

    TBH, the only real reason I use an Android tablet is because it's really the only competent option for relatively cheap and portable entertainment devices. I don't use it for productivity (for obvious reasons).

    IMHO, I am disappointed at the obsession of constantly going to higher and higher pixel densities. I know it's not a widespread opinion, and it is just my opinion, but if the option is a 13" screen with, say, 1336x768 and getting 12 hours of battery vs. a 13" screen with a 3200x1800 resolution and virtually half the battery life, I'd choose half the resolution option every time. While battery technology advances, it does not advance nearly as quickly as necessary for display tech. progression. Efficiency gains on the processor side are only a stopgap.
  • -1 Hide
    mjw149 , August 6, 2013 10:45 AM
    This article confirms that Intel is toast. They are not in the mainstream anymore. They can't create their tablet strategy around ultrabooks that will largely sell to the enterprise. Battery life wouldn't help ARM ship on laptops and battery life won't help Intel ship chips for tablets, for the same reason:p latform compatibility. If these ultrabooks aren't running ios and Android they wont' dent the mobile market at all, they're less functional than a $200 tablet if they don't have the newest and most relevant applications.

    And their standards efforts are quite frankly laughable when they're not aimed at the mainstream tablet market (<$200 androids and $400 ipads). This article demonstrates just how badly out of touch Intel is. At least they're doing something to help make PCs competitive, MS isn't even doing that. But bailing water out of the Wintel Titanic is just delaying the inevitable.

    As for the clear astroturfing above, I thought the flow of the article IS EXCEPTIONALLY bad. In an article about Intel's business strategy (or Intel's version of history) the middle section completely jumps to a teardown of a laptop!? WTF? Very amateur and the concern with laptop fixability/upgradeability isn't connected with anything Intel is doing.
  • 0 Hide
    e-z e , August 11, 2013 8:41 AM
    A most excellent article! Although your Ubook didn't survive, rest assured it was for the good of Nerdkind.
  • 1 Hide
    miliket , August 12, 2013 12:06 AM
    I like this web site so much, saved to bookmarks .
  • 0 Hide
    rampagingrabbit , August 18, 2013 8:00 PM
    Really neat article! I would like to know however why Intel thinks I would buy some laptop with a display that's worse than a phone I owned 4 years ago when I could buy a tablet (which is not underpowered for what I use it for) with a gorgeous IPS display with great resolution?

    Intel.. I wouldn't. Get your finger out of your a**es and include "must have decent resolution" in your Ultrabook required spec sheet. Thanks :) 
  • 0 Hide
    2dealsok , August 21, 2013 12:36 AM
    Now, portability is a big problem.
  • 0 Hide
    2dealsok , August 21, 2013 12:37 AM
    Now, portability is a big problem.
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