With Microsoft widely expected to launch the final pre-release version of Windows 8 in the days ahead, the software giant’s biggest partner, Intel, is talking up second-generation versions of its Ultrabook portable computer design that will feature multi-touch capabilities and work with the new OS. According to Intel, more than 30 touch-enabled Ultrabooks will ship alongside Windows 8, with at least 10 of those being convertible PC designs that can be used as slate-type tablets.
“One of the big focuses we have is on touch,” says Intel Vice President Kirk Skaugen, noting that there are now more than 110 new Ultrabook designs in progress at PC makers around the world.
You might recall that Intel invented the Ultrabook spec last year, giving PC makers a platform for ultra-light, ultra-portable computers that appears to be modeled very much on Apple’s iconic MacBook Air. Of course, Ultrabooks offer numerous advantages over the Air: They’re cheaper (often much cheaper); come in a far more diverse array of styles; offer better capabilities through USB 3.0, onboard cellular data functionality, and other features the Air lacks; and—of course—run the superior OS, Windows.
But with the coming launch of Windows 8, Intel and the many hardware makers that make up the PC ecosystem are preparing a second round of Ultrabook designs that will take advantage of integrated Windows 8 features. Key among these is multi-touch.
Many assumed that PC makers would simply ply iPad-like tablets at consumers. But these companies have far grander plans. In addition to pure tablets, PC makers will provide dockable tablets that can transform into full PCs when at a desk, convertible laptops that transform between slate-type tablets and traditional laptops, hybrid PCs of various styles, and of course touch-based versions of traditional Ultrabooks, laptops, and desktop computers, including all-in-ones.
Current Ultrabooks utilize Intel’s second-generation Core chipset, code-named Sandy Bridge. But Intel is rolling out its third-generation Core chipset, Ivy Bridge, with the portable versions expected to launch next week at a trade show in Taiwan. Ivy Bridge-based Ultrabooks should begin appearing in the market soon, followed by less conventional devices with touchscreens and hybrid designs in the fall, alongside Windows 8.
Speaking of Windows 8, Microsoft previously announced that it would deliver a near-final Release Preview version of its OS in the first week of June, but a series of leaks on Wednesday suggests that it could come much sooner than that. Sources tell me that Microsoft now plans to finalize, or release to manufacturing (RTM), Windows 8 on August 1, a bit less than a month earlier than previously expected. That places the Windows 8 launch—along with related Ultrabooks and other new PC designs—in October.