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Ultrabook: Behind How Intel is Remaking Mobile Computing

A New Conversation

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 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.