With demand greater than ever for their products, you’d think Intel would be feeling pretty cosy at the moment. If their latest product release is anything to go by though, it seems the shifting technologies have the computer design company running scared.

Intel Asus UX Series TabtopSo what is the sign of this fright? It’s the Intel Ultrabook, the plans for which were announced in May at Taipei’s Computex 2011. The new type of laptop-tablet-all-round-computing-device is set to appear on the market this year, in time for Christmas 2011.

‘Ultrabook’ is the term coined, rather hopefully, by Intel to describe what it says is a new type of computer. With a market in a frenzy over the popular tablets, which competitor Apple seems to have cornered all to itself, Intel is striving to carve a new niche for itself. The first model has been crafted in partnership with Asus and dubbed the Asus UX21.

The lowdown on the Asus UX21

The series of Ultrabooks is planned for release in two stages. The first stage, taking advantage of the Christmas market, will combine some of the attractive features of a tablet with the usability of a laptop. Notable elements are to include the size (the UX21 is 17mm thick at its thickest point) and the weight (1.1kg), although anyone toting a netbook already will perhaps be a little unimpressed with these stats. Slightly more impressive is the punch the Ultrabook packs (where the CPU as high as Core i7), the Asus lightning-swift two-second resume from sleep, and a one-week hibernation period. After all that, the glass trackpad and metal keyboard really is just showing off.

The Christmas 2011 models will be using Intel’s current Core processors. The second-stage model though, will be even more drool-worthy, featuring Intel’s new Ivy Bridge processors.

Intel takes Apple on

It was only recently that Intel posted record revenues. The second quarter for this year saw the company record a 20% increase in revenue, compared to the same period for 2010. Profits rose as well, although not as impressively. So why all the panic?

Part of the answer lies in the reason for Intel’s revenue increase. The increase was driven by emerging markets, which have been buying into the technology revolution at an unprecedented rate. If the emerging markets follow the swift evolution of their Western counterparts, Intel is likely to find itself losing ground to Apple. The answer is to push forward with a new technology, or as close an approximation as a smart company can come up with on such a tight deadline.

A geek’s impossible dream?

The concept of a laptop/tablet hybrid is nothing new. Apple has been pursuing the idea for a while now, and Lenovo made a serious step toward achieving the dream with the IdeaPad U1, launched in the middle of 2010. New models claiming to be the tabtop of geek dreams have been emerging over the last year, but so far they all seem to be laptops with detachable features. In other words, nothing particularly revolutionary has been released so far.

So, are Intel and Asus likely to go where no computer company has gone before? At the moment, it’s difficult to say. The designs for the Ultrabook look suspiciously like an extremely thin laptop, something that Apple has already achieved. With the traditional screen/keyboard design, the evolution from laptop toward tablet is likely to be displayed in qualities, rather than the hardware.

So, the Asus US21 is Intel’s direct challenge to Apple’s iPad. Is the tabtop likely to take over from the tablet craze? Ask me after Christmas.

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