Will Ultrabooks Replace Laptops?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Forget notebooks, netbooks and tablets. Intel thinks the future of portable computing is the “Ultrabook.”

What is an ultrabook, you ask? Well, despite the futuristic-sounding name, it’s really just a better laptop: thinner (less than 0.8 inches), lighter and more responsive than what’s on the market today. Speaking before the Computex computing show in Taiwan, Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney described the new line of laptops as laptop-tablet hybrids with touch screens and instant log on. The company also predicts that the ultrabooks will have a 40% share of the laptop market by the end of 2012.

“These computers will marry the performance and capabilities of today’s laptops with tablet-like features and deliver a highly responsive and secure experience, in a thin, light and elegant design,” said the company in a press release today.

That mention of tablets is telling, because it’s clear that the iPad is casting shadows over the mobile computing world. Soon after the iPad launched in 2010, sales of netbooks saw a steep decline; while it’s possible that netbooks were already on the way out, it’s clear that tablet computers are becoming the preferred option for mid-range ultraportable computing.

Whether Intel will be able to hit that 40% market share by the end of next year is questionable, though, especially given that there aren’t any “Ultrabooks” currently on sale (the first, the Asus UX21, will hit stores in the winter). And while the prospect of 20mm-thick laptops is certainly appealing, the price could be a sticking point for some. The company is touting “price points under $1,000,” but that could very well mean that the most basic models retail for $999 (as is the case with the MacBook Air line).

These days, the price of mobile computing has come down to the point that there are plenty of laptops available for less than $1,000, so it’s not as if Intel is delivering a low-cost alternative. And with the iPad 2 starting at $499, Intel may find that this new class of laptops, already beaten on price, have little left to compete on.