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2013 PCs: Accelerated Innovation Is Coming Soon


After a day and a half at Intel Developer Forum 2012, it’s apparent that the 2013 PC ecosystem will see a lot more innovation than we’ve been accustomed to of late. A year from now, PCs will consume much less power, perform as well or better, and have new capabilities centered around perceptual computing.

Haswell Architecture Enables New Power-On Life Expectations

Hard to believe, but Intel did not lead IDF with the microprocessor hardware. In fact, Intel said very little about the speeds and feeds of next year’s new fourth-generation Core microprocessor, code-name Haswell. Yet Haswell is designed from the ground up to make Ultrabook laptops highly desirable and very mainstream.

The undisputed fact is that Haswell will use Intel’s 22 nm three-dimensional transistor process.

The eye-opener is how much power consumption is improving. Intel says the dual-core system-on-a-chip, low-voltage processor for Ultrabooks delivered in 2013 will draw 10 watts or less. This power level is half that of 2012 third-generation Core processors (i.e., Ivy Bridge), and a 20-fold improvement from the circa-2008 Core 2-based MacBook Air I am using to write this blog.

These power-to-performance metrics will allow all-day computing, eliminating once and for all the need to compute near an electrical power outlet. You’ll think of your Ultrabook as energy-sipping as your tablet (although that’s not actually the case).

Haswell Makes Ultrabooks Even Better

Ultrabooks will come of technology age with Haswell. The Ultrabook ecosystem has gained momentum from Intel’s large industry push and incentives. Entering 2013, there will be over 140 Ivy Bridge Ultrabook designs in the market or on the way.

We are seeing much more innovation in the current and future generations of Ultrabooks, accelerated by touch screens, Windows 8 and its touch support, and new tablet-laptop hybrids. These hybrids use clever ways to disconnect, flip, or slide the keyboard from the tablet-size logic and screen. These new form-factors will be at retail point-of-sale for the holidays, and are worth checking out.

Windows 8 and touch support will rapidly gain consumer demand, especially as the $100 price premium declines next year. Touch, which most consumers are now used to on smartphones and tablets, is a natural evolution of the user interface. It will take off.

Next year’s Haswell adds icing to the Ultrabook cake. The candles are new technology centered on perceptual computing.

Intel’s Perceptual Computing Software Brings the Gaming Console to the PC

Those readers familiar with Microsoft’s xBox 360 Kinect or the Wii, a camera that senses interactive gestures and speech, will instantly understand how Intel’s beta-stage perceptual computing software and third-party hardware will take the PC user interface to a whole new level. Available now as a free developer’s kit, the software will drive perceptual computing into application products arriving about the delivery time of Haswell next year.

Perceptual computing gets us beyond keyboard commands and mouse clicks. The hardware, initially by Creative, “sees” nearby gestures and actions, such as hand, finger, and facial gestures like smiling. Facial analysis tracks the mouth, nose, and eyes as the head moves. 2D and 3D object tracking can augment the reality experience by, for example, showing a user what a particular style of glasses would like like on her face. Finally, speech technology from Nuance, the iPhone Siri-enabling folks, will drive voice command innovation. But Siri’s magic happens in the cloud at Apple’s data centers. Intel’s perceptual computing will happen lightening fast because its local, as we saw in demos.

Will 2013 See the End of PC Cables?

Intriguingly, Intel teased that it will deliver wireless near-field technology with Haswell PCs that allows wireless device charging and cable-free communications. Any road warrior who once left a certain USB cable at home will be delighted. The rest of us will celebrate the end of PC set-up times where cabling nests are just part of the nomadic lifestyle.

The Desktop is Alive and Well

Windows 8, touch, and perceptual computing are also stirring juices in the desktop space. We’ve seen numerous all-in-one PCs that create giant canvases for artists, interactive television, gaming, and collapsible form-factors that result in a very big tablet. Visualize convertible all-in-one.

All of this is goodness as product innovation will drive industry-specific uses and consumer lifestyle-specific uses. The volumes won’t be mass market, but we see the industry breaking out of the beige-box mentality at higher gross margins. In fact, all-in-ones are a shining star at 65% compound annual growth rates.

How to Approach Buying a New PC or Laptop in Late 2012

The innovation described above starts in the 2012 holiday season and continues over the next year through the Haswell microprocessor-based product roll-out in Q2 and Q3 of 2013.

My 2008 MacBook Air is working but falling way behind the technology curve, a bad place for a technology analyst to be. I’m in the market to buy fairly soon.

First, I like the data and entertainment consumption ease of use of tablets. For my needs, tablet features that carry into a new laptop include:

  • a 3G or LTE cell radio to allow always-on connectivity; WiFi has too many limits
  • Multiple radios, especially GPS for location-based apps and Bluetooth for peripherals
  • Touch support
  • Windows 8
  • Thin and light.

Those requirements put me into the specs of a feature-rich Ultrabook. Moreover, a convertible Ultrabook might get me off an iPad and MacBook onto one Ultrabook, eliminating a lot of synching issues.

Since I don’t typically do a lot of always-on media consumption, I probably don’t require waiting for Haswell to gets its great battery life; Third-Generation Core “Ivy Bridge” will get the job done and still last several years into the technology future.

Getting ready for perceptual computing apps late next year will likely require careful spec checking to get good hardware support for 3D video tracking and dual-array microphones that improve voice command accuracy. No immediate answer here.

I’ll update this blog when I find the above laptop specs in a product we can both buy at retail. Or post your comments and suggestions.

For a desktop, I’ll wait for a Haswell-based touch-enabled all-in-one.

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