One of the bigger stories from last week’s CES was the Ultrabook. Whether or not you agree with the oft-repeated dialog that Ultrabooks are merely Macbook Air copies — and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – you probably feel it’s a good thing that the PC makers are trying hard to make better products. Although I’m all for sharp design, lower weight, instant on etc, my own personal belief is that the PC world is somewhat missing the point with the current emphasis of the Ultrabook. The big picture isn’t about competing with Macs, it’s about the mass transition to mobile and how that affects the PC industry as a whole.
So, what’s my issue? I think that the least important difference between notebooks and today’s mobile devices is weight, design, and instant on. Those are all things that the PC industry should have been working on anyway. Even touch, which isn’t in evidence in the current crop of Ultrabooks but shows up in the roadmap, isn’t such as big of a factor given the rich interface of the PC. No, to me the biggest issue is around connectivity and the constant availability of the network.
Think about it. Your smartphone is constantly available to add value, whether it’s in your hand or nestled in your pocket or bag. Obviously it can announce a caller, but just as important it can perform background tasks such as syncing email, and it can alert you with reminders and notifications from the network. Your notebook, on the other hand, undergoes a digital frontal lobotomy and sinks into a network isolation chamber as soon as you close the lid or move away from a WiFi connection. Bridging the gap between the PC of today and the mobile world is much more about remaining useful, and relevant while we’re, well, mobile.
I want my next notebook to rest, but not sleep, and to be able to get me on the network automatically. It’s clear that most people don’t want to buy a cellular plan for their PC, but how about utilizing the enormous public WiFi network that’s already ubiquitous? That way I won’t be connected 100% of the time, but often enough as I walk down the street, grab a coffee, sit in the lobby of my hotel or hang out in the airport. With a network connection my notebook can meet a smartphone halfway. That’s an exciting step function into the mobile world and a compelling vision for all manner of devices which otherwise wouldn’t enjoy full time cellular connectivity. That’s the Ultrabook I want to see!