Intel pushes thin notebook at consumer electronics show

Heavy investment is envisioned for Apple competitor

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, delivered the keynote address for CES 2012 at the annual Consumer Electronics Show yesterday in Las Vegas.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, delivered the keynote address for CES 2012 at the annual Consumer Electronics Show yesterday in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS - Last year, Intel began talking about a new category of superthin notebook computers called the Ultrabook. At this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show, the company, the world’s biggest maker of computer chips, made it clear it plans to pour a lot of money and effort into turning Ultrabooks into the next big computing phenomenon.

Ultrabooks are essentially an effort to bring to notebooks based on Microsoft’s Windows operating system the lightweight, thin design of Apple’s MacBook Air, a machine with the thickness of a short stack of papers. Intel knows a lot about the MacBook Air because it supplies the chips that run Apple’s product, but the company wants the much larger market of Windows-based notebooks to embrace the style of the Apple device, too.

At a news conference yesterday at the show, Intel said 75 new Ultrabook designs were expected to be released in 2012. Intel executives demonstrated a few of the machines, all of which were very thin, often with eye-catching metallic cases like the MacBook Air’s. One design theme Intel pitched was the idea of a hybrid Ultrabook-tablet, which has a traditional keyboard for intensive data entry and a touch screen for zooming in on photos and manipulating other software.

One of the wackier-looking designs Intel showed was a concept Ultrabook it called Nikishki. Below its keyboard, the device has a huge touchpad that runs the entire width of the machine, allowing users to switch easily to touch gestures from typing.

The touchpad is transparent, so when the Nikishki is closed, you can see through the underside of the laptop.

Through that window, you can view a portion of the computer’s display, which will allow you to glance at e-mails, news, and calendar appointments the way many people do with their smartphones today.

Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC client group, said touch would no longer be confined to tablets and smartphones. But he said the presence of a keyboard would give Ultrabooks greater versatility than those devices. “Ultrabooks with touch will be the ultimate solution,’’ he said.

Intel also said it was trying to create new ways of interacting with computers besides touch. The company cut a deal with Nuance to add that company’s voice-recognition technology to Ultrabooks.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft chief executive, struck familiar chords in his swan song at the show.

Much of his 70-minute presentation revolved around Microsoft’s work on software that Ballmer has been promising will make the company a bigger factor in the increasingly important market for smartphones and computer tablets. Microsoft Corp. hopes to make its biggest breakthrough with Windows 8, the next version of its dominant computer operating system due out later this year. As expected, Ballmer didn’t announce a specific date for Windows 8’s mass-market release.

Ballmer no longer intends to deliver the opening speech because the event’s early January schedule rarely coincides with Microsoft’s product plans.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.