Intel, and Microsoft as well in many ways, is counting a lot on the popularity of the Windows 8 Ultrabook. They will be small, fast, relatively affordable, and do everything most people expect out of a portable computing device at least as well as the competition. Still, with tablet popularity on the rise and laptops/netbooks already falling in some markets it will take something more than just a light, efficient design to excite customers.
Apparently, Intel thinks that the next big move to get excited about will be the touch screen Ultrabook. By combining the tablet favoring aspects of the Metro UI with the convenience of a keyboard and the additional power that the Ultrabook design brings along, they feel that the best of all worlds can be put together in one lightweight package. It’s an interesting theory, and not necessarily wrong, but the history of such devices will weigh fairly strongly against them here.
Laptops with touch screen displays are far from new at this point. They’ve been around for something like a decade now, possibly longer. Overall the best received versions have been convertible notebooks. These will allow the screen to swivel around and turn the device into a tablet when the keyboard is not in use. They work fairly well, but you run into the problem of Windows applications being designed for other interfaces.
Windows 8, with its app marketplace and Metro UI, would definitely overcome that problem a bit. What it wouldn’t do is address the physical concerns. The rotating displays create a weak point in a laptop’s structure that tends to greatly increase failure rates. The new OS would also not instantly override consumer perception.
As mentioned, this type of portable computer is not a new thing. At best it is viewed as a novelty, at worst a waste of time. While this may be, and probably is, a matter of the concept having been introduced before there was a system in place to take advantage of it; years of disinterest make it harder to market as a fresh idea.
The Ultrabook is still an interesting idea that may catch on big once there are more models available and exposure increases. The idea of a touch screen Ultrabook faces such an uphill battle that it may be hard to imagine it succeeding no matter what advantages Windows 8 offers by way of improvement.
Much of the potential success for this idea may rely on the ability of Windows 8 to take advantage of ARM device compatibility. Microsoft is already walking a fairly troublesome line by unifying the experience of the OS without finding a way to design for both ARM and Intel devices at once. If the selection of apps to the ARM side of things fails to take off, this may be something that makes the Intel “tablet” more of an option than it would otherwise seem. We shall have to see how much the marketing campaign can pull off.