How the iPad changes PC design, part 2

Intel has, however unintentionally, underscored the importance of the iPad by trying to emulate it in future laptop designs.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

In case anybody had any doubts about the impact of the iPad on the PC, Intel laid those doubts to rest this week at its investor meeting.

Echoing trends touched on in an April 23 post, the company that makes the silicon core of most of the world's PCs said this week, in effect, that laptops will become a lot more like tablets, i.e., more like the iPad.

And why will this happen? The slide below--shown at the chipmaker's investor meeting--makes this clear.

Laptops will become extremely thin and be instant-on and with instant connectivity, Intel said this week. Sounds a lot like a tablet with a keyboard.
Laptops will become extremely thin and be instant-on and with instant connectivity, Intel said this week. Sounds a lot like a tablet with a keyboard. Intel

This time, thin is really thin: At the meeting at Intel's headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., executives were talking about a standard 0.7-inch thickness (about 18 millimeters, see slide above) for laptops, not to mention dropping hints about future 8 millimeter thick tablets and smartphones.

And thin is really in: In a discussion I had offline with a high-ranking Intel executive at the meeting, the new "extreme ultrathin" strategy was described in an interesting way. To paraphrase, the original CULV thing didn't fly, he said. (For those not familiar with Intel jargon, that means consumer ultra low voltage. Intel's attempt, a couple of years ago, to push ultrathin laptops into the mainstream.)

He went on to describe how CULV marketing dollars were cut because, among other reasons, the performance wasn't there. But this time, it's different, he said. There will be a big marketing campaign and plenty of power-efficient--but still very fast, mind you--silicon to populate those 0.7-inch-thin (and thinner) laptops that turn on and connect instantly.

How important is all of this to Intel? "This is a once in a decade kind of change," said Dadi Perlmutter, an executive VP at Intel, when referring to this overall push into power-efficient, always-on, always-connected computing.

And in case investors needed more convincing, at one of the informal events, Intel was showing off about a dozen tablets, a few already on the market but most due to ship in the coming months.

And, at the same event, a few feet away, Intel was showing the ultrathin (0.64 inches) Samsung Series 9 13.3-inch model and demonstrating how future Intel technology will allow the PC to instantly pop out of hibernation mode--which currently is anything but instant, often taking about 20 or 30 seconds (or more). In other words, what is known currently as standby mode will become, in effect, instant-on hibernation. All in an effort to extend battery life while providing instant responsiveness and instant connectivity.

Which brings us back to the tablet...I mean...iPad. If PC vendors actually execute on Intel's vision, that could blunt the appeal of the iPad for some consumers. And even trump the iPad, dare I say, for some consumers.

Imagine in-the-not-too-distant-future, a 2-pound, 0.6-inch thick laptop packing next-generation Intel Ivy Bridge processors with integrated 4G and a 256GB solid-state drive for about $1,000. And this design could be operating system agnostic: Windows 7 (or Windows 8), Google Chrome OS, or a future MacBook Air running Apple's OS.