What is an Ultrabook? You can go into the details – a laptop weighing under 1.4kg, measuring less than 20mm thick, using an SSD, made with a unibody chassis, with battery life in excess of five hours and sub $1,000 pricing – but in reality it is nothing more than a by the numbers guide for laptop manufacturers explaining how not to mess it up.
Naturally the requirements are also self serving (an Intel Sandy Bridge or impending Ivy Bridge platform must be used), but the subsidies it offers are designed to advance laptop evolution – unlike Microsoft's netbook subsidies which forcibly held it back. And make no mistake, Intel has huge plans for the future of its hand-holding standard. Intel exec Sean Maloney said in May the company expects 40 per cent of consumer laptops to be based on Ultrabook designs by the end of 2012.
Eden (above) has carried on this ambition at CES declaring touchscreens, gyroscopes and voice recognition will be part of future Ultrabook standards as well as demonstrating prototypes with touchscreen palmrests and stating its slim restrictions are "only the beginning". If Apple allowed MacBooks to be made by third parties, this is how it would go about it.
Yet there is trouble ahead. Intel may have effectively commandeered the design departments of PC makers, but that doesn't guarantee success. To begin with PC makers still found a way to mess up the first generation of Ultrabooks. Many missed their price targets, where there was wriggle room in the rules (keyboard, screen and touchpad quality) a number fell short and most interpreted Intel's design prerequisites as direct instruction to unashamedly copy the MacBook Air.
Furthermore, with the global economy set for an extended period in the toilet and consumers conditioned into buying based on price, an industry switch which turns these expectations on their head is certainly risky. As such it is hard to say whether Ultrabooks are here for the long term, but in the short term - if manufacturers do learn from this period of enforced common sense and return some credibility and desirability to a sector still on its knees - Intel will consider it a job well done.