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August 11, 2011

Intel Pours $300 Million into 'Ultrabook' Laptop Development

By Beecher Tuttle, TMCnet Contributor

Intel (News - Alert) will invest as much as $300 million to help spur the development of a new class of ultra-thin, high-powered and cost-effective laptops known as ultrabooks, the company announced on Wednesday.

The world's largest chip maker said that it has earmarked the money for companies that build hardware and software technologies that can help combine the capabilities of today's laptops and tablet computers. Areas of interest include sensors, touch displays, improved storage capacity and longer battery life.

"We are looking at bunch of companies that will help improve the user experience of ultrabooks," David Flanagan, Intel Capital (News - Alert) Managing Director of Mobility Sectors, told Dow Jones Newswires. "We are interested in innovative technologies that deliver incremental value, for example, three-dimensional camera sensors and gesture software that will enhance interactive experiences."

The creation of the Intel Capital Ultrabook Fund is a clear effort by the chip maker to provide users with a viable alternative to tablets, which have become a consumer sensation and have cut into the market for PCs, laptops and netbooks.

Intel is a dominant figure in the PC world, but has yet to achieve near the level of success in the tablet space. Apple (News - Alert), Samsung, Motorola and Research in Motion all rely on non-Intel chips to power their tablet devices, according to Bloomberg.

Intel initially unveiled the concept of the ultrabook – which sounds an awful lot like an inexpensive version of the Apple MacBook Air – at Computex in May. The tablet/laptop hybrids should be less than 0.8 inch thick, provide days of battery life on standby and cost less than $1,000.

Ultrabooks will offer a new kind of functionality where users can switch back and forth between a touch screen and a traditional cursor.

The chip maker's plan to accelerate the concept of the ultrabook will take part in three phases, each of which will coincide with the launch of new families of Intel processors. The first round of ultrabooks should hit the market in the winter of 2011 alongside the company's latest 2nd Generation Intel Core processors.

Additional ultrabook iterations will be powered by Intel's highly anticipated "Ivy Bridge" and "Haswell" chips, which are set to make their debut in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Intel expects ultrabooks to account for around 40 percent of the laptop market by the end of 2012.

Intel has said that it is working with the "entire computing industry" to get its vision of the ground. The $300 million fund will be distributed over the next three to four years.

If successful, ultrabooks could cut into the tablet market currently dominated by Apple. To do so, computer manufacturers will need to clearly differentiate their products from notebooks, which have been crushed in recent years by competing devices.

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Beecher Tuttle is a TMCnet contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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