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Ultrabook: Behind How Intel is Remaking Mobile Computing
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Perhaps you can already see the root of Intel’s problem. CULV was yielding interesting designs from a spec sheet standpoint. Units were thinner. Battery life was ballooning. Yet through it all one can sense that the CULV conversation began where all Intel efforts traditionally begin: with the chip. For a rousing detour into commercial philosophy, you might start your next half-time beer chat by asking where all Apple design efforts typically start.

Apparently, Intel did almost exactly this. In 2010, the acronym-manic company called a CSD—Corporate Strategic Discussion—to discuss reinventing the PC. At a time when pundits and sales trends alike pointed frequently at “the death of the desktop,” this was a tough, necessary, and arguably overdue dialogue for the company’s top ranks. It was, at bottom, a crystal ball get-together. What were future usages of the PC going to be?

Karen Regis is a mobile marketing manager at Intel who has been with the company since 1990, starting in engineering (she did thermal and mechanical design work for mobile platforms), progressing through technical marketing, and now heading up Ultrabook marketing strategy. She was part of that 2010 CSD meeting and sums up Intel’s approach on that day by saying:

Karen RegisKaren Regis

“You had to line things up starting from the user experience. What are the experiences we want to deliver? How do we want people to feel when they’re using their PC and their other devices? Because it wasn’t just confined to PC. We know there’s got to be a device element in our activity for this thing to be really compelling. Then, underneath those experiences, what are the key usages? Underneath those key usages, what sort of capabilities and technologies do we need? Then underneath that, what sort of silicon is needed to enable the whole thing?”

For some, this focus on the user experience as a starting point might seem agonizingly obvious, especially in hindsight, but remember that it’s hard for the Titanic to change course. Intel’s top brass wanted to see research, both old and new, in order to build a case for change, and this took time. For example, one facet of Intel’s studies involved “snacking,” meaning that instance when a user takes out his or her device, lights it up for a moment to check something or perform some brief task, and then puts it away. You can argue whether snacking is or isn’t a “use case,” but it still impacts how engineers design the power envelope for the processor, how quickly data has to be available upon powering up, and so on.

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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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