Ultrabook enters the computer fray

The Life: Local technology experts weigh in on how the new computing category of ultrabooks may fare.

Asus's UX21 weighs only 1.08kg and is just 17mm thick. Courtesy Asus
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Technophiles already torn between tablets and notebooks will soon have a new option: the ultrabook.

Q&A: Intel’s announcement about ultrabooks was the biggest story at Computex. But other products certainly generated plenty of buzz as well.

Last Updated: June 7, 2011

Like what? HP's TouchPad tablet was first revealed earlier this year, but few people have had the chance to test drive it yet. Some tech writers got a sneak demo at Computex, when a rep at the SanDisk booth whipped one out.

What's unique about this particular model? Its 9.7-inch touchscreen displays information through a three-column layout, which is different from most of its competitors. But the TouchPad's most unusual feature will let consumers transfer web sites, documents and songs simply by tapping it with certain other HP devices.

Were there other new tablets on display? Yes. Intel announced that its technology would be embedded in 10 new tablets in the future. The ViewPad 7x tablet, which will run both the Windows 7 and Android operating systems, has a 7-inch screen. That's the same size as the new BlackBerry PlayBook, which is to go on sale in the UAE on Sunday.

Intel unveiled this new category of computers last week at the annual Computex expo in Taipei. It is essentially a hybrid of its forebears, featuring the slim, lightweight design of a tablet with processing power closer to that of a laptop. The device is expected to sell for less than $1,000 and will be made by multiple manufacturers starting this year.

In this part of the world, ultrabooks "could be big in education", says David Ashford, the general manager of AppsArabia, an Abu Dhabi-based fund that invests in app ideas from the region.

"If you look at what students do now, some take tablets with them into lectures. If [ultrabooks] are suddenly much more powerful, and in effect proper laptops, that could be quite impressive," Mr Ashford says.

Asus's UX21, which was displayed as the world's first ultrabook at Computex, weighs only 1.08kg and is just 17mm thick. Analysts say it is meant to compete with Apple's popular but pricey MacBook Air.

While Intel forecasts that its ultrabooks could account for 40 per cent of all laptop sales by the end of next year, the company also concedes the devices might leave consumers scratching their heads initially.

"There'll be some confusion if you look at the fold factor," said Shmuel "Mooly" Eden, an Intel vice president. "When you open it you'll see a PC, but if you're on the go, just fold it and suddenly it's a tablet."

Some local tech experts say the ultrabook's success here will hinge on whether it packs enough power to smoothly browse the web, check e-mail and connect to social media, and on its price.

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"There is space for ultra portables," says Magnus Nystedt, the group editor for the magazine PCWorld Middle East. However, he says, "a lot of consumers are going to be confused when they go into a showroom to try and figure out which one to buy."

The Quote: "Is it a PC? Is it a tablet? I think it doesn't matter." Mooly Eden, vice president of Intel, about a new category of laptops called ultrabooks.