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Ultrabook: Behind How Intel is Remaking Mobile Computing

What Was Wrong With Mobile Computing?

Throughout these investigations, Intel was searching for the Holy Grail that would make the PC easier, more fun, more immersive, more capable—more of everything good while being physically less intrusive. The PC needed to remain a productivity device, but Intel also wanted it to be something of an aspirational item, that thing everyone must have and loves to flaunt.

Another CSD followed in 2011, and this was when the word “Ultrabook” first came into use, as pretty much everyone agreed that “CULV” was about the worst marketing name in the company’s history. In the midst of this follow-up, Intel tried to figure out how to shape its effort in ways that would appeal as much to buyer’s hearts as their heads.

"We organized what we called our core pillars of the Ultrabook,” says Regis. “We knew that in order to be successful, we had to deliver something that would be responsive, have great mobility, something cutting edge in form factor, battery life, fresh data, connectivity. We wanted it to be personal and stylish. We also added in security, knowing that security isn’t really a sales driver. But we wanted to provide peace of mind, so as people start taking these cool, new, more useful devices out with them, they would be secure and we will be able to secure the assets.”

Another question execs had to ask was why Apple had found some measure of success with CULV (the MacBook Air) where others were floundering. According to Regis, the answer probably has a lot to do with “focus and commitment.” Apple gets behind its products without reservation and never backs away from them until they’ve already been replaced by something better (think of the iPhone superseding the iPod, which still sells its classic versions for $249). Compare that with Dell’s treatment of the Adamo.

But “focus and commitment” is a nebulous thing. How do you measure that? No, the bottom line always comes down to dollars, and OEMs had a volume problem. As Regis notes, “When one person is trying to do a thin design and they have a run rate of maybe 100,000 units, that device is going to be costly.”

Clearly, the $1799 Adamo price point was never going to fly with consumers, and if a Windows notebook was ever going to carry a MacBook price premium, then it better make the justification for that premium impossible to miss. At that 2011 CSD, Intel reached the decision that the future of notebooks was going to be a convergence of clamshell and tablet, what we currently call “detachable” or “convertible.”

“But to get to that vision, we had to take some steps,” says Rob DeLine, manager for the Ultrabook program within the PC client group. “Notebooks that were 35 mm thick all looked the same, and they all hit that $499 price point. We said, ‘Well, let’s cart this off in chunks.’ Chunk one is to get the industry and ecosystem innovating again and designing products that are thinner—thinner batteries, thinner lids, thinner hard drives, higher-density batteries, thinner keyboards. You look at the stack and ask, ‘What is gating me from getting 35 mm down to 20 mm and below?’ And how do you do that in ways that will hit volume price points?”