Ultrabook consolidates in 2012: Intel pushes ‘natural interaction’, alternative form factors and promises 75+ new models at CES

The Ultrabook may have launched in 2011 with the first models appearing locally from September onwards but 2012 is set to be the year in which the technology truly comes into its own with Intel using its CES 2012 Press Day conference to announce that over 75 new Ultrabook models are set for release this year and Mooly Eden Intel’s vice president and general manager PC Client Group showcasing a number of new innovations including touch voice and tablet-like features on upcoming devices.

From the sounds of it the Ultrabooks we’ll be seeing in 2012 will largely build upon the ground made by 2011’s first-phase models but will also start to break away from the MacBook Air-esque 13-inch designs we’ve seen up until this point embracing variety both in terms of size (with larger models with displays up to 14 and 15 inches) and alternative form factors that provide tablet-like touchscreen functionalities.

Nikiski concept: a transparent touchpad enables the display to be utilised when the clamshell is closed. (Image: Intel)

Furthermore Intel’s third-generation Intel Core CPU family (codenamed Ivy Bridge) expected to arrive around the middle of the year will be incorporated in latter-2012 Ultrabook models delivering increased performance (in terms of power and power-efficiency) over current second-gen Intel Core (aka. Sandy Bridge) machines.  

Among the new Ultrabook features displayed on stage by Eden were built-in accelerometer sensors like those commonly found in smartphones and tablets where tilting the Ultrabook controlled onscreen movement (in the demo a flight sim app was used to display the feature). Eden also showed off a convertible-style notebook the touchscreen display of which slides down (facing outwards) turning the Ultrabook into a de facto (if somewhat hefty) tablet.

Ultrabook or tablet? Sliding the touchscreen display down gives you both in one. (Image: Intel)

Perhaps the most innovative-looking Ultrabook design demonstrated was a device dubbed the Nikiski where a wholly transparent touchpad (in its traditional position in front of the notebook’s keyboard) enables a portion of the device’s display to be seen when the notebook’s clamshell is closed. Via the transparent touchpad the user can interact with the machine and its screen even while the notebook remains shut.  
In addition to the concept designs revolving around touch Intel demonstrated other ‘natural interaction’ control methods such as voice recognition (powered by Nuance’s Dragon software letting the user launch and interact with apps control media playback and so on) and a short-range gesture-based UI (similar to Microsoft’s Kinect technology although in its early stages).

Intel is expected to shed further information on the third-generation Intel Core processor later this week at CES and with an across-the-board Ultrabook marketing blitz set to commence in April (which the company boasts is its biggest ad campaign since the Centrino days) this is one technology you can expect to see and hear a lot more about in 2012.