Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]



LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – Hundreds of tech journalists are huddled in the Galileo Showroom at the Venetian Casino this morning to hear the latest from Intel, and surprise surprise, Intel wants to talk about ultrabooks… the ultra-slim laptop form factor that the whole PC making industry is hoping will save them from being eaten at both ends by the iPad and MacBook Air.

Unfortunately, after all is said and done, most of what Intel had to offer to PC makers were a grab bag of gimmicks.

From the get-go, Intel seemed a little too desperate to make the pitch that ultrabooks could be more than just inferior MacBook Air clones. The press conference started out with an inexplicable five minute dance routine meant to be a metaphor of the “evolution of computing” in which an Intel engineer pulled off a chronological series of popular dance moves ranging from Chubby Checker’s Twist, the YMCA, Ice Ice Baby, and finally Can’t Touch This. It came off as amusing and bizarre, but an uncharacteristic and slightly embarrassing display coming from a chipmaker known for letting its silicon speak for itself.

But that’s the whole point. As Intel’s VP Mooley Eden said over and over again, consumers don’t care about specs anymore. They care about the experience. “How will this make my life better?” is a rhetorical question exhibitors are constantly asking aloud this CES with a certain breathless wonder, as if this was the first year it had ever occurred to them to be designing products with a real human being’s actual experience in mind. Congratulations, guys: you’ve finally caught up conceptually to Apple thirty years ago.

So what should the experience of an ultrabook be, according to Intel? Instead of mere processing power and speed, Intel strongly pushed a number of novel new ways to interact with your ultrabook. Unfortunately, most of these were just gimmicks, obvious attempts to graft tablet functionality onto laptops.

Touchscreen Ultrabooks: Eden strongly pushed the idea that consumers wanted touchscreen ultrabooks, despite the famous “Gorilla Arm” problem. To prove his point, he even cited a slide featuring quotes from several possibly imaginary people around the world, all of whom are craving touchscreen ultrabooks.

Accelerometer-Controlled: Another bizarre insistence of Eden’s was that accelerometer controls were a great way to control an ultrabook game. Eden even demonstrated tilting an ultrabook to play a game in which you steered a paper airplane.

Kinect-Like Gestures: Taking a page from the Microsoft Kinect, Intel showed off ways in which ultrabook web cams can be used to recognize gestures. Cooley cited Google Earth as a perfect use case for such technology, where a user can reach out and twist the Earth by just grabbing it.

Voice Control: Obviously inspired by Siri, Intel has teamed up with Nuance to bring Dragon voice recognition technology to Ultrabooks as a standard. Intel cited the fact that Dragon voice recognition was living in each ultrabook and not in the cloud as an advantage of their implementation over the likes of Siri, but in reality, it’s probably the opposite.

NFC Capabilities: Intel showed off how you could pay for an item online using your ultrabook just by tapping your credit card against the body of the device, which would then spur the ultrabook to automatically fill in all the billing and shipping information associated with the card. In addition, Intel’s security measures guarantee that if someone steals your credit card, they can’t use it on a different ultrabook: each card is tied to a specific device.

With the exception of NFC and gestures, all of Intel’s innovations have one thing in common: they basically all try to make laptops more tablet-like. That’s telling. Intel still does not have a viable chip that can compete with ARM in the low-power tablet market, and tablets are are cannibalizing Intel’s laptop business left, right and center. Until Intel has a chip that can compete with ARM, they need to try to move the goal posts and sell laptops as tablets, a strategy evidenced by the multiple hybrid ultrabook/tablet concepts the chipmaker showed off today (most notably the Nikiski).

At the end of the day, there’s no doubt that Intel is strongly committed to ultrabooks. They have to be: the MacBook Air has spurred incredible demand for thin, ultra-portable laptops with instant-on capabilities and great battery life. It’s pretty much the only segment of the PC market that isn’t looking at collapse, that people are actually excited about. But to us, Intel’s attempts to get PC makers to clone the MacBook Air and the iPad at the same time look desperate. With the whole industry betting on what Apple is going to do next, it seems absolutely bizarre to put your money down on some of the very concepts that Apple has straight out said just don’t work.

If this is the best ultrabook makers can come up with, the MacBook Air has nothing to worry about. With 75+ ultrabooks launching this year, expect a lot of silliness ahead.

  • FriarNurgle

    Honestly, none of these features appeal to me. 

  • WardC

    A feature that would be nice on the MacBook Air is 3G/4G Wireless Cellular Internet connection capability, such as already exist on the iPad and iPhone. 

  • alxlr8

    Oh my god. Thanks for including the mood setting photos of the dancing…. dude. 

    And I totally agree with you – they don’t have anything to compete with the leading edge of ultra mobile (because they’d be showing it if they did), so instead we’ll fool the consumers into thinking they’re getting something they want. And to put a touch screen – spinny hinge or not – onto a laptop is just bizarre….

  • Deranger86

    Well as they say, every touchscreen phone is always just an iPhone-clone, every tablet is always just an iPad-clone and now, every Ultrabook will undoubtedly always just be a MacBook Air clone.

    Apple should just come up with something absurd next, like an electric toothbrush, just to prove how uninnovative every other manufacturer is when they start producing their own electric toothbrushes to “compete” with the iToothbrush.

  • TheMacAdvocate

    The reason I use programs like 1Password is so I won’t have to pull my credit card out of my wallet to use it. Everything old is new again, I guess.

  • cleancutmedia


    they still don’t understand.. it’s not about adding as many features as you possibly can (whether or not people will want it or not or find it useful) and trying to wow people… it’s about usability and implementation.

    understand the primary ways your consumer use your product…
    think about, how you can make it better and easier for them to do so…
    focus on just those 2-3 things…
    polish it, make it really, really EASY and useful.

    i don’t need a touch laptop screen… (why? convince me first.)
    i don’t need kinect gestures… (why make gestures at my laptop? No more going to cafes..)
    i don’t need a SIRI on my laptop… (SIRI might be useful on the go, to be handsfree, location based… but still need convincing to use on a laptop.)

    if you want to make “revolutionary” changes, you need to do give me good reason why I need it and implement it VERY WELL.. that is trying to create 15 new features simultaneously is bound to fail.. esp before showing why i need it.

    There is a reason why Apple “lags” behind in product specs… it knows to implement things WELL and BETTER before release. Also those features are already somewhat established as needed features.

  • John Howell

    Get rid of the ANNOYING ad bar in the iPhone Bew of your site. It is really pissing me of the way it keeps
    Blocking your content when you scroll.
    I’m using iOS5.01

  • BrooklynTrees

    actually i think it’s this guys backwards Kangol hat that shows how dumb they will be

  • John Howell

    Give me 10 hrs of battery life and I’ll be interested. That’s what is one I an ultra books killer features

  • sebzar

    This is all nice and well, but if they use Windows on it as an operating system the whole thing will still slow down and get buggy after a while. Unless Microsoft finally has dumped the windows registry.

  • jfc123

    I don’t know if I’m missing something but is it really really bizarre that Intel had someone dancing on stage to show the evolution of Intel? Even the picture seems outrageous!

  • Aaron

    At least the Koreans and Japanese know you use PRETTY GIRLS, not balding 30-something-dancing-males, to sell products!

  • Connor Mulcahey

    I agree with you 100%, I have always felt that the makers of android phones just shoot for a list of features (most of which are numbers like Ghz, RAM and Megapixels that either the average consumer doesn’t know the meaning of or doesn’t need them) which often sacrifice battery life. That is their marketing strategy, have a longer list of features with bigger numbers than Apple instead of just trying to make a good product for the end user.

  • Alex

    Careful when you use the word dumb Mr. Brownlee ….  The word can easily be used to describe the majority of your work.

  • ddevito

    I’m on 5.0.1 and don’t have that issue. Apple says you’re using it wrong.

  • Timothy Murphy

    Evolution of Dance, not a good internet “meme” in the first place, now being used as advertisement? 

  • John Howell

    See my screenshot here.

  • Michael Von Verrenkamp

    These kinds of devices can seem a little interesting until you remember that you have to move back in to the Windows universe again on what is sure to be some cheaply made flimsy laptop. 

    I also love how almost all the feature they showed off are at best interesting technology but ultimately pointless concepts.

  • Christopher Turcotte

    They need to just stick to making silicon, what they do best

  • techgeek01

    Samsung 9 series 15 inch ultrabook is your poison. 15 inch display in a 14 inch laptop body (thin bezels), weighs in at 3.3 lbs (I believe, but I know for sure under 3.5 lbs), and a 10 hour battery life. 


    FAIL!!!! LMAO!! So SAD!! 

  • techgeek01

    Gimmicky because they are not put into context.

    (Obviously) these are not in current Ultrabooks.  Next generation Ultrabooks (or Processors, since Intel is a CPU manufacture) will be a far more blend of tablet and notebooks.  Meaning you will have countless of hybrid devices which morph between tablet and notebooks.

    If I recall correctly, Lenovo showed of a Hybrid Ultrabook (some call it a laptop) that morphs between a Ultrabook and tablet.  Meaning that a lot of these “gimmicky” features will make PERFECT sense for a device like this.

    The big thing about Windows 8 is that is allows for Hybrids. Since it will be a OS that can run on tablets AND regular old laptops/desktops/etc…  It allows for Hybrid device.  Once Windows 8 comes out, we will see a huge fusion of hybrid devices.  Devices that are essentially a iPad and a MacBook Air in one.

    The future of mobile computing is not the iPad.  It is not the MacBook Air, but a device that is BOTH an iPad and a MacBook Air.  That’s the future of Tablets and ultrabooks.  Multiple manufactures are already making devices just like this and it’s just going to increase greatly.  And this gimmicky features?  They will only ENHANCE these devices.

    I have voice control (well more Voice search) in my chrome browser.  It works like a dream.  All I need to do is say what I want to search for.  Amazing thins is, I can say “movie times” and it will bring up movie times directly in google so I don’t have to the movie theater website.  Say “weather”?  It brings up the weather right up in the browser.  No need to click on, etc…  Essentially a Siri tied up with the Google browser, so if you need more information or more detailed information, it’s all right there.  And bringing it to the computer/OS it allows for a lot more.  

    Microsoft is rolling out kinect for PC’s now.  Meaning this will allow for another way of input.

    This “gimmicks” will only ENHANCE these devices.  But I guess since Apple didn’t invent these things or put it into their devices first, they are gimmicks.  But I already know what will happen.  Once Apple implements these “gimmicks”, there will be a rave of how amazing, useful, etc… these “gimmicky useless” features are.