Intel provided a glimpse into the future of ultrabooks on Tuesday, saying the next big thing for the emerging class of thin and light laptops is natural interaction through sight, sound and touch.
Future ultrabooks will be equipped with voice recognition, face tracking and touch features, which will secure the laptops and make them easier to use, said Tom Kilroy, senior vice president at Intel, during a keynote speech at the Computex trade show in Taipei. Intel is promoting the development of sensors, screens and other technologies that will enable natural interaction with future ultrabooks.
"We're raising the bar on more natural interaction," Kilroy said.
Intel representatives on stage showed how sensors enabled an ultrabook to sound an alarm if it was touched by a thief, and talked about how ultrabooks could be used for biometric sensing, health assessment and eye tracking.
A key technology in future ultrabooks will be voice recognition, Kilroy said. Intel demonstrated using voice commands to open a web browser window, or using speech to post Facebook updates in English. Intel earlier this year announced a partnership with Nuance Communication for voice recognition on ultrabooks. Kilroy didn't say when the technology would become available, but voice recognition is not far off, he said.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. There's so much more possible," Kilroy said.
But of all forms of natural interaction, touch is the closest to ultrabooks, Kilroy said. Touch is a real game changer and adds a new dimension to ultrabook usage, Kilroy said.
"We all know touch is just around the corner with ultrabooks because Windows 8 will be enabling touch," Kilroy said. Combined with Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 OS, touchscreen ultrabooks could provide the flexibility of being a tablet for media consumption and a traditional laptop for power users.
PC makers including Acer and Asus announced touchscreen ultrabooks with Windows 8 this week, while Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Dell have announced ultrabooks without touchscreens. All top PC makers have committed to ultimately adding touchscreens to ultrabooks as a new form of input.
The new ultrabooks announced by the PC makers use Intel's latest Core processor, code-named Ivy Bridge, which provides 22 percent better CPU performance, 15 percent lower power consumption, and two times better media and 3D graphics than the previous Core processor, code-named Sandy Bridge. Intel expects about 110 Ivy Bridge ultrabook models to go on sale by next year, of which 30 will have touchscreens, it said.
Intel is the biggest backer of ultrabooks, and calls it a category of thin and light laptops with tablet-like features such as touchscreens, long battery life and always-on connectivity. Intel hopes ultrabooks will reinvigorate a slumping PC market, which has been hurt by the growing sales of tablets.
"We strongly believe consumers are going to gravitate toward ultrabook convertibles," Kilroy said.
Given its expectation that touchscreen demand will jump, Intel has partnered with suppliers TPK, Wintek, Cando and HannsTouch to expand production capacity for touchscreens sized 13 inches and larger. The partnership will increase production capacity for quality touchscreen panels by somewhere between three and five times, Kilroy said in an interview with the IDG News Service.
Pricing may initially be an issue for touchscreen ultrabooks, but could come down over time as availability of systems increases, Kilroy said. Ultrabooks have been subject to criticism in the past for high starting prices of around $800, but that number has recently come down to $750.
In addition to bringing new forms of interaction, Intel hopes to improve ultrabooks' security and connectivity features while reducing their size. The Ivy Bridge ultrabooks have improved security features and content can be updated even when the ultrabook is in sleep mode. Ultrabooks will only come with Windows, Intel said.