What's an Ultrabook? According to Intel, it's a superthin MacBook Air-like laptop with great battery life and a solid-state drive, which is less than .8 inch thick. Most people couldn't tell you that, though. It's not surprising then, perhaps, that Intel Capital has created a $300 million Ultrabook Fund to drive continuing growth in the category. It is, however, significant news.
According to the press release sent today, Intel's Ultrabook Fund will "invest in companies building hardware and software technologies focused on enhancing how people interact with Ultrabooks such as through sensors and touch, achieving all day usage through longer battery life, enabling innovative physical designs and improved storage capacity."
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This isn't new for Intel. Previously, reference designs and funds have been driving forces behind computer concepts spearheaded by Intel, including the Classmate PC and the Netbook. Ultrabooks were christened as such at Computex this year, but they aren't new: the MacBook Air and Samsung Series 9 are solid examples that technically fit the bill already. That's not unlike Netbooks, which existed in the form of the Asus EeePC before being labeled by Intel.
It's a great time for a product like an Ultrabook, in one sense: as the newest MacBook Air has proven, thin ultraportables are finally able to deliver on excellent battery life without sacrificing performance. Future iterations of Intel processors, such as next year's Ivy Bridge and 2013's "Haswell," promise even better power efficiency and performance.
And yet, Ultrabooks have a big pricing hurdle to wrestle with. Non-Apple Ultrabooks will have to keep an aggressive price or offer superior features in order to compete: the MacBook Air, while residing on the high end of the laptop pricing spectrum, still manages to be more affordable than the Samsung Series 9, and future Ultrabooks such as Asus UX21 will cost more than $1,000 as well.
The aim, according to Intel, is to make Ultrabooks into the next "must-have device." That will be a challenge, though: both tablets and smartphones have stolen a lot of the sexy-gadget spotlight away from laptops. Getting attention back requires bold efforts, and that's where Intel's Ultrabook Fund could be a very smart idea.
With tablets like Apple's iPad already delivering on great battery life and impressively slim design, the ball's in the court of laptops to keep pace on both hardware and interfacing software. Let's hope they become more affordable, too.