Dan Belton is the consumer and retail director for Intel UK. His main responsibilities include engaging with the principal UK retailers and OEMs to bring consumer platforms and technologies to market.
We asked him all about Ultrabooks.
How excited is Intel about Ultrabooks?
The first thing I would say about Ultrabooks is that this is a really big deal for Intel. We see it as a big deal, as big as when we launched Centrino eight and a half years ago. This is a really exciting category that gives consumers the features and form factor that they love in laptops, but also delivers the features they are beginning to really enjoy with tablet PCs, such as instant-on.
So the 'ultra' part of it isn't just that it's ultra-thin and ultra-cool looking, which it is. It's about the ultra-capabilities that we're going to be building into these systems - security features, battery power, instant-on and standby. It's massively exciting for us; we have big ambitions and we're pleased to see how the OEMs are really getting behind the product.
What is the philosophy behind the Ultrabook?
We've always been at the forefront of creating categories and form factors. Our new Sandy Bridge products are delivering high performance for the consumer, but more importantly, they're also delivering really fantastic visual capabilities for things such as photos, videos - even some gaming. In some cases our Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 products are running games as fast as a graphics card would.
I think this is a response to what we see happening in the market, and we think that users are definitely still buying lots of laptops. We're still seeing lots of growth in that, but the extension of use of computing is becoming so important, hence the need to have these more beautiful, slimmer designs.
We also need that capability built into the systems that add this instant-on connection with the added security features you get with a laptop. This is definitely where people are moving in terms of the type of computing they're doing.
You've said that the OEMS are really excited about Ultrabooks. How much interest has there been from the industry?
Yes, you may have seen launches from companies like Acer, Asus, Toshiba and Lenovo, and we expect the other big manufacturers to be coming on stream in the early part of next year as well. So there is a broad interest.
You know, as much as anything else, this is good for the consumers, because they are getting very feature-rich products in a great form factor. But it's good for the industry as well in terms of hitting that sweet price point of around £699 to £899. This is something that the OEMs and the retailers have been looking how to do with new and exciting technologies.
Ultrabooks are the thing that's driving that for them, and you've got a rich ecosystem behind it, around those people that are buying it, and some of the applications and services that we'll see coming through with it as well. We know from what's going on in the market that this is a really compelling proposition.
You've mentioned the sweet spot, price wise, of around £699 to £899. At the moment prices for Ultrabooks are around £1,000. There have been some concerns that this price is too high.
The prices will come down. Actually, what's happened is that some of the products are coming in with Core i5 and Core i7 at launch. So you've seen Acer and Asus launch at around the price you've described, but as the volume goes up, like any commercial model, going forward our expectation is that the prices will adjust themselves. The target price was always $1,000, which turns out to be around £699.
How much market share is Intel hoping to get with the Ultrabook?
We have an aggressive target that 40 per cent of consumer laptops will be Ultrabooks this time next year.
One of the Ultrabook's biggest competitors is the MacBook Air. Why should people buy an Ultrabook over a MacBook Air?
This is a question that a lot of people have asked, and we can't deny that the MacBook Air is a very good product and Apple is a very good partner of Intel on those products. But there is the fact that there are people used to the Windows environment as well and this is what Ultrabooks are going to provide and it's going to offer a broadening of brands that they're used to buying within a form factor that they are looking for.
So are you working closely with Microsoft then?
We always do. Our connection with Microsoft almost dates back to when we both started, and we have a very tight working relationship with the company.
With Windows 8 launching, you've mentioned that there are going to be touch capabilities in the future. Can you explain more about that?
We expect that as our technology develops around the new platforms for Ivy Bridge and so forth, we'll absolutely see those sorts of capabilities become more involved and integrated with the product.
I can tell you that's within our roadmap, so whether that will be in the OEMs' roadmaps as we go forward - we'll learn that in the future. We certainly see touch as part of the proposition of the future.
Has Intel issued a set of standards that products must meet to be called Ultrabooks?
We have. It's things like what we call the 'Z' height, which is the thickness. It also has technical capabilities within the platform as well, around SSD and various other bits. In late 2011 you'll begin to see systems that offer thin and light designs that are less than 21mm thick, and some much thinner than that.
System must also have ultra-fast startup. The PC should wake up almost instantly for quick access to your data and applications. They should also have a minimum of five hours' battery life.
So do you expect people to walk into a shop and ask for an Ultrabook instead of a laptop or a netbook?
Well, we've just started [laughs] so you know... Certainly the early signs are very encouraging. We've only just gone on the shelves and the products, we believe, are starting to sell out, so that's encouraging.
We'll certainly be putting a lot of effort into describing the benefits associated with Ultrabooks in the future, so that will incorporate full retail merchandising, above the line activities and social media with a view to positioning the Ultrabook as the product that people are really going to want to buy. I think that when they get it in their hands and use it, I think they will see that it the product people will want to buy in the future.
Are you using one at the moment?
I'm waiting for mine to come. I should be getting one fairly shortly, and I'm going to be using it at home. In fact, I'm buying my Ultrabook with my own money, I want one so badly!
What does the future hold for Intel and Ultrabooks?
The future looks fantastically bright. We've got great products coming through, and the Ultrabook is absolutely one of those. We've got a great understanding of the consumer journey. We've got great channel models, and as far as we're concerned we're going to invest heavily in the value parts of the market and we'll drive value for the consumer and for our partners, or retailers, for OEMs. That covers the future of consumer computers as well. The future's very bright.
First published in PC Plus Issue 316
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