The Consumer Electronic Show is always fun each year and we try our best to follow Intel's keynote as we do with Intel Developer Forums (IDF) held biannually. While Briton's ARM has stolen most of the innovation thunder away from Intel over the years, Intel continues to drive innovation in many areas of the business. During September's IDF they revealed their breakthrough radio technology that will fuel the build out of next generation broadband network infrastructures. This will allow wireless carriers to update to future wireless standards at the speed of light though software updates instead of hardware equivalents today. While we applaud Intel for their work in many areas of the market that will benefit us all over time, it's great to see that Intel will finally deliver their long awaited Ultrabook Convertible. It will be the first generation notebook-tablet device with an all new grounds-up architecture called Haswell that will reinvent notebooks. Could it be the game changer that they've been hoping for since the arrival of Apple's iPhone in 2007? Could this product finally put Wintel back on consumer's radar screens after years of sluggish sales? For enterprise workers and students alike, it looks like the Ultrabook Convertible could potentially hand Wintel their first homerun in years. But will it be enough to be the most popular device for 2013? Time will tell.
The Game Changer
Intel's CES double keynote began with a video called "The Game that Changed the Game." Below we present you with their key slides and narrative.
It was almost exactly one hundred years ago, on a blustery autumn day that two collegiate rivals took to the grid iron in an epic contest that would become to be known as "The Game that Changed the Game."
It was expected to be close. Pitting an up and coming all boys' school from West Bend Indiana against the always powerful Cadets of Army.
Yet when the final seconds ticked off the clock the scoreboard reflected a lopsided win for Notre Dame. Their secret weapon: an innovative game plan that incorporated the strategic use of the forward pass. In a way it was never done before.
A history making innovation that would soon gather momentum and forever transform the way the game was played.
That was a game changer. 2013 will be a game changing year for Intel & their partners.
And here are some of the changes coming in market from Intel in 2013.
The Real Game Changer
Intel's Kirk Skaugen, corporate vice president and general manager of the PC Client Group, wasted no time in jumping right into his core message about the next generation Ultrabook which has the potential of being a real game changer over the next few years.
Skaugen began by stating that "There's one thing that we all know is that in the mobile computing space the lines are blurring. We as human beings have two innate things we like to do. We like to consume content, which we've been able to do for the last few years on our smartphones and tablets, but we also like to create. That's why we take our kids to art school, to music school, make movies, write books. And we fundamentally believe that there's a convergence happening between what's been traditionally notebook computing and tablet computing in a new range or segment that we've called the Ultrabook Convertible and Detachable."
Skaugen forecasted that Ultrabooks with touch displays would have a starting price of $600 by Q4 2013 down from $1000 in the previous quarter. Skaugen added that "There will be more innovation coming to the Ultrabook in the next year than we've seen in notebooks in the last decade."
Skaugen then took a moment to show off an NEC touch notebook launching this month that comes with a 15 inch display in a very slick aluminum form factor. This unit is likely to come with a touch display by the end of the year.
As Skaugen finally entered the core of his keynote regarding the fourth Generation Intel Core Ultrabook he stated that " as the video showed [the video that we presented to you in graphic slide-form above], we believe the fourth generation Intel Core Ultrabooks are going to be game changers. This is the first product that we've delivered and designed at Intel from the grounds up with Ultrabook in mind."
Skaugen continued by stating that "We're going to interact with these devices naturally with touch and with voice. And so what I'm announcing today is that the fourth generation Core Ultrabooks will have mandatory touch requirement." He later stated that it will also be mandatory for OEMs to include Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) technology with every fourth generation Ultrabook.
In describing some of the next generation Ultrabook Convertible features, Skaugen stated that "We'll have voice capability. It's going to turn on instantaneously. When you open the lid with a couple of seconds you'll get access to your data – and it's always going to be fresh data. So what does that mean? Either through Microsoft's connected standby or Intel's smart connect when you open the lid of you Ultrabook all your email will be fresh, all your feeder feeds, your Facebook, all your data will be updated already because we have a way to update that while the lid is closed."
"For all-day batter life, we're announcing today is that with the fourth generation Core we're going to be able to deliver the largest battery life increase, generation on generation, in the history of Intel Corporation. Absolutely all day battery life; where you just don't have to bring your power brick with you at all."
Intel's First Internal Reference Design
"What I'd like to talk about now and show you is the "first internal Intel reference design" that is already running on the fourth generation processor. This is where we "unleash the convertible category," Skaugen stated.
"This is our concept platform called North Cape that is a 17 millimeter Ultrabook. It has a battery both underneath the keyboard as well as behind the display. And the CPU actually fits behind the display. This is going to deliver an amazing 13 hours of battery life." In comparison, it should be noted that the current MacBook Pro stands at 19 millimeters – so it's clear that Intel is hoping to have some Ultrabook Convertibles on the market by the end of the year that are thinner than today's MacBook Pro.
Skaugen further described their North Cape reference design by stating that "We've created a one finger attachment mechanism that you could simply use to remove the keyboard – and we're left with an amazing tablet experience. It's an 850 gram Core i5, i7 machine at 10 millimeters. It's going to deliver up to 10 hours of battery life." Although it's hard to see in the graphic, the top the display/tablet has a built-in speaker.
"We've also created something called Smart Frame. This is essentially an 11.6 inch form factor [noted above] but what we're able to do is hit a button here and the screen increases to a full 13.3 inch screen [noted below]." You're able to clearly see the smaller image in our top graphic enlarge on the display in our bottom graphic.
According to Skaugen, the upcoming fourth generation Ultrabook Convertibles will have starting price points of between $800 and $900 in the second half of this year.
Intel identified the fourth generation Ultrabook Convertible as the real game changer and I believe it will be, especially over time. It's a no brainer for the majority of the world with Apple being the odd man out. I've already presented my view about Apple not challenging the Ultrabook as being a potential mistake and I'll leave it at that for now in this report.
Trying to Repurpose the Home Desktop Computer
HP was the first to bring multitouch to the desktop long before Wintel discovered it as the next great thing. Now with Windows 8, multitouch is for both mobile devices and the desktop which will make multitouch mainstream for all devices. It's going to take time to get it just right for the desktop, but within a few years there will be enough apps to make the multitouch desktop a must have device.
It's evident that the desktop is not only advancing but likewise being reimagined for both the home and work markets. At home, dozens of next-generation board games and other kinds of creation applications will help to double the home desktop as a family entertaining gaming center that sits on your family room or kitchen table to play games like the Electronic Arts version of Monopoly. One minor short-term drawback is that in battery-mode, the new touch based desktops will only run about two hours. So for these units to be a viable gaming platform for the family to enjoy, they'll have to deliver at least three times the battery life that they'll initially offer. That could take another 18 months are longer before someone breaks that barrier. But at least we could see where they're going with this new kind of desktop and within a decade we'll look back and all be saying why did it take so long for this to come to market?
For work environments, OEM's are designing specialized stands with wheels so that the desktop display could be positioned in a flat mode and used as a collaboration table where two co-workers could interact on a given project at one time as the graphic from The Verge confirms below. The rotary dial menu, shown below, is an interesting new feature found on Lenovo's IdeaCentre Horizon 27" desktop, as it's a feature that Apple has been working on as well for both the desktop and mobile iDevices.
Skaugen rounded out his keynote with some of the material that we first presented from IDF 2012 regarding biometrics, natural human interfaces and perceptual computing that will eventually incorporate 3D eye tracking and 10 finger multitouch capabilities.
And one last interesting point: At one point during Skaugen's keynote he announced that the power that was expected to be delivered with their ground-breaking Haswell processor coming to market in H2 2013, would be in fact be shipping earlier in their newly updated Ivy Bridge core processors shipping later this quarter. Intel's slide showed that the new processors would only use a mind bending 7 watts of power.
Funny Statistics & Intel's Emerging Market Smartphone Platform
Some of the other highlights from Intel's keynote began with Intel's Vice President General Manager of Mobile Communications Group Mike Bell which covered mobile phones and their work with Google on Android for Intel based mobile devices. As shown below, Bell presented a slide that came from AnandTech's website regarding Motorola's RAZR i smartphone with performance numbers beating out Apple's iPhone 5.
Yet let it be said that this particular slide as shown above is typical Intel market-speak (propaganda). Bell should have known full well that another of AnandTech's reviews dated the same day as the review they chose to use showed that Apple's iPhone 5 and iPad blew everyone away in performance tests. Of course Bell was slick enough to state that the stats came from "independent reviewers." Stats that just happened to help promote Intel's agenda to have their Atom processor appear to be leading Apple's iPhone 5 in performance. In the end, it just made Mr. Bell look foolish.
Mike Bell then moved on to Intel's newly devised smartphone platform that will get Intel into more of the value segment, a segment that Apple may also have their eye on. Bell stated that "This segment is one of the fastest growing segments in the mobile device world, projected to be 500 million units by 2015. Many of these units will be sold in emerging 'geos' such as Latin America, Africa, China, India and Southeast Asia. The customers in these segments want high-end smartphone features and we at Intel think that emerging market customers shouldn't have to settle for a substandard experience."
Intel's new platform covering the emerging markets will be called Lexington or the Z2424 and you can read all about the specifications here.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day, Intel is hoping to finally have their Ultrabook Convertible product come to market in the second half of this year. Skaugen had stated during his keynote that the initial stages of the Ultrabook were simply modified Intel iCore based products; a means of gearing up for the real product category killer that could be a real game changer for Intel.
Intel has struggled for years to find a killer mobile device, believing at one point that their netbook would outsell the iPhone in 2008: Ouch.
Yet their Ultrabook Convertible may indeed hold the most realistic chance of becoming a category killer. My home has always been a two platform supporter (OS X and Windows) and this is the first product in years that I'm truly hoping to get my hands on once they ship with Intel's Haswell processor.
If their reference design is what we could expect in terms of design, I'm in. I need a tablet that could run Flash and run my regular work apps including my blog while I'm on the road. While I love my iPad with its stunning Retina display, it falls short in what I actually need in terms of software. In my view, the Ultrabook Convertible will be the best of both worlds. It will be a light weight always-on notebook with a detachable display providing users with a cool tablet with up to a 13.3 image display for casual reading, playing high-end 3D games and more. It may not be an iPad killer in its first year but could definitely hurt Apple over time if they refuse to enter this market.
The only question that Intel has yet to answer is how they'll introduce their 4G capabilities. To be an "Always-On" device will likely mean a mandatory data SIM card. Not that this is a big deal, but they seem to leave that aspect of the Ultrabook Convertible a blank in their literature. Is there a twist to their implementation of this feature that they're leaving for launch day? Time will tell.
So – will Intel's Ultrabook Convertible finally deliver some excitement back into the notebook space? Yes, I believe it will, big time. Yet in these rapidly changing times, all kinds of devices including those in the mobile space could steal the consumer's attention in a heartbeat. There could be some surprises along the way to Q4 2012 and nothing is a guaranteed winner so early in the year. Could Apple's first HDTV come to market? Will Google's Project Glass deliver killer features?
At the end of the day, who knows which device will end up being the winner in 2013? For now, I still believe that the Ultrabook Convertible will be one of the top selling devices over time because the notebook will always play a major role with enterprise professionals and students. Finally combining a modern notebook with voice, advanced touch capabilities and biometric security with the convenience of one-touch display detachment for casual tablet surfing, communications and presentations, the Ultrabook Convertible will deliver the ultimate all-in-one mobile device experience that most of us have been waiting for.