Intel outlined a future for Ultrabooks ranging over a number of new features at a Consumer Electronics Show press event Monday. Concept devices included touchscreen Ultrabooks, tablet-style hybrids, voice command and gesture integration, and NFC integration to fill in credit card details to an online form by touching your card to a computer's touchpad.
Mooly Eden, an Intel VP, indicated that the company's dedication to the Ultrabook concept remains strong, despite lukewarm receptions to and sales of the initial models, such as the Asus Zenbook and Toshiba Portege Z835. Aside from pumping up current models and denigrating overconsumption of media ("consumption is for cows, not people," he declared at one point), Eden demonstrated a number of concept devices that will be integrated into future models.
Windows 8 has promised touchscreen integration for some time, but its ostensible use was for tablets; instead, Eden demonstrated the technology in the screen of a concept Ultrabook of Intel's own design. In a brief hands-on, we used the screen to swipe between magazines, selecting one and then paging through with swipes on the screen and taps on a navigation bar. While touch integration has formerly been an answer to keyboards and touchpads rather than a supplement, Eden was confident that the three methods could work together. "It is my belief that people will use a touchscreen even with a clamshell," Eden said.
A second touchscreen prototype, the Nikishki, integrated a large see-through touchpad with a Windows touch interface to allow use of the computer when it's still closed. With the Nikishki closed, users could tap and swipe through the Windows icons and interface on the underside of the trackpad, like a tablet. When the device was reopened, the computer would display where the user had left off with the smaller underside interface.
Eden also demonstrated tablets that could interpret gestures through a camera, like a Kinect does for an Xbox 360. One of Eden's assistants demoed a slingshot-launching motion inside of a PC game, drawing his pinched fingers together and back in space in front of the computer, then letting go of the imaginary sling to launch rocks at his target.
Peter Mahoney, chief marketing officer for Nuance, joined Eden on stage to announce that the two companies are working together to bring Dragon NaturallySpeaking-style controls to Ultrabooks. While Mahoney noted that the technology won't be ready for at least another year, the native interface will handle tasks like "tweeting and checking calendars," and users will be answered by the computer in a "rich, natural voice." Mahoney described the integration only in broad terms, but it sounds like the capability will go beyond the dictation capabilities of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and start to enter the iPhone 4S's Siri territory, a service you interact with instead of talk at.
Other Ultrabook prototypes included gyroscopes to interpret tilting and motion during games (another feature Eden is sure people will use) as well as NFC chips that can read out PayPass credit cards into an online form.