Intel backs ultra-light laptops with new age controls

Posted at 01/10/12 10:41 AM

LAS VEGAS, Nevada - US chip giant Intel on Monday heralded a coming wave of affordable high-powered, thin laptops that could double as tablet computers and be controlled by gestures or spoken commands.

Intel vice president Mooly Eden showed off coming "ultrabooks" by Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Samsung, Toshiba, LG and Hewlett Packard as well as a curiously innovative prototype Nikiski laptop powered by yet-to-be-released Windows 8 software.

The Nikiski had a transparent touch pad panel below a standard keyboard. When closed the panel provided a window to the laptop screen and allowed it to be controlled with touches or swipes in a tablet style.

"We started six months ago to deliver ultrabooks and are ramping as we speak," Eden told reporters packed into a ballroom for a press conference on the eve of the official opening of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

"We would like average people to be able to enjoy the ultrabook experience, because you know the first ones were $999 or more," he continued in a veiled reference to Apple's popular MacBook Air line.

"Our target is to pull the price down and make ultrabooks mainstream."

About 50 ultrabooks were expected to debut at CES in one of the defining trends of this year's show.

Mooly said the power of computer chips has finally enabled laptop makers to deliver sleek and slim, yet powerful, ultrabooks with the potential to be controlled by gestures or voice and to eventually serve as spoken language interpreters.

Intel revealed collaboration with Nuance Communications to bring voice controls to ultrabooks.

"Now that we have relationships with devices like ultrabooks, why not talk to them?" Nuance marketing officer Peter Mahoney said while joining Mooly on stage.

"You speak and it will be answered," he added. "The more you use it; it will learn your accent and better understand you."

Nuance voice recognition to be embedded in Intel-powered ultrabooks this year will recognize nine languages including French, Spanish, Mandarin and English.

Mooly also demonstrated a test model Windows 8 ultrabook built with sensors to allow it to control on-screen game play by being tilted, then pointed out it was designed so the touch-screen could be folded to face outward tablet-computer style.

"People today talk about loving their computers," Mooly said. "There is nothing wrong with loving our computer, if it is a great computer."

Ultrabooks being powered by Intel chips were also built with embedded security features and could read data from NFC (near-field-communication) chips built into credit cards.

Mooly said components from screens to batteries need to be redesigned to give ultrabooks "sexy" slim bodies along with beautiful viewing experiences and enduring power supplies.

Mooly showed off research projects already incorporating gesture controls into concept ultrabooks.

"This is going to be a totally new world of gesture recognition," Mooly predicted.

More than 75 Intel-based ultrabooks, many of them "hybrids" that can double as tablet computers are in design. Intel planned an April kick-off of its biggest advertising campaign in nearly a decade to spur demand for ultrabooks.