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Intel shows the future of Ultrabooks

9 Jan 2012
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The Ultrabook is set to strike out in brave new directions - with the help of Windows 8

We were concerned that Intel would have little of substance to show today when it started its press conference with a 5-minute dance medley charting the decades of computing. No, we didn’t get it either. Our fears deepened further when Intel’s Mooley Eden declared it to be an Ultrabook-centred event. We like the hardware, but wondered how much new there was to say. Thankfully, after a few dull demos, things did pick up with prototype hardware showing some possible futures for the platform.

UL-TRANSLUCENT

The best of the bunch was undoubtedly a working prototype of Intel’s NiKiSki concept – first discussed at Computex last year. It looks like a typical clamshell laptop at first glance, but beneath the keyboard is a huge translucent touchpad that takes up the whole width of the device. This works as a regular touchpad, but when you put your palms down it detects that and disables the touchpad so you can type.

Intel Ultrabook concepts

Here you're looking at the 'bottom' of the Nikiski, and can see the main display through the ultra-sized translucent touchpad

Close the Nikishki and the huge translucent panel means you can still see a sizeable slice of the display, and interact with it using the rear of the touchpad – which is double-sided. You can then browse a Windows 8-styled interface to see your appointments, read messages and other quick tasks – all without even opening the laptop. It’s a lovely piece of design and one that could really appeal to those on the go – though we doubt we’ll see it available to buy any time soon.

Intel Ultrabook concepts

The interface may be reminiscent of Windows 8, but is actually a separate program running on Windows 7 at present

ULTRA SLIDE

Also shown was an Ultrabook concept that looked very similar to the recent Android-powered Asus Slider. The Slider wasn’t perfect, but there’s nothing wrong with the concept, giving users an easier to reach touchscreen with a keyboard, or the option of using it as a fully-fledged tablet. The launch of Windows 8 - the first version of the operating system to properly integrate a touch-based interface - should create a flurry of such tablet-laptop hybrid designs.

ULTRA TOUCH

Moving to the more immediate future of the Ultrabook format, Intel started by talking about adding touchscreens to traditional clamshell–style laptops. We’re still a little dubious about touchscreens in this format, as you have to reach past the keyboard to use them, but then Windows 8 will give us more motivation than ever before to touch our screens.

Intel Ultrabook concepts

Intel demoed tablet-like activities on a touchscreen Ultrabook - such as reading a digital copy of Evo magazine

We were more than pleased to see the prototype Ultrabook being used to read one of our own in-house magazines – the beautifully presented Evo – by flicking through pages as if on a tablet. Intel also showed off a built-in gyroscope by tilting the laptop to fly over a Google Earth generated landscape – which would provide handy compatibility with certain tablet games under Windows 8.

Also demoed was a Kinecct style gesture-based game, which used some kind of camera above the display. This camera detected the distance between the player’s hand and the screen as he controlled a slingshot, so we reckon it was more than simply a webcam-based system.

ULTRA PAYMENT

Finally we got a Mastercard demo, where a prototype Ultrabook with NFC was used to make an instant one-tap purchase using a credit card – that’s address and card details all in one go. Intel’s built-in security chip means the card can’t be used in this way on any computer, you need to have registered it first, so a thief couldn’t make such transactions on their laptop. It’s an appealing idea for speeding shopping up on sites which don’t have your details stored.

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