Intel’s plan to revitalize the thin-and-light laptop has been out in the open for over a week, but now the company’s going a step further and giving this product category a new name: Ultrabooks. These computers will measure less than 0.8 inches thick and cost less than $1,000 when they hit the market later this year.
For now, I just want to talk about the name. It’s snappy, as far as jargon goes, but it also leaves me feeling cold. The tech industry is littered with marketing buzzwords for new kinds of computers, but not all of them stick, and as history shows, you just can’t force this kind of thing.
Consider, for example, the Ultra-Mobile Personal Computer, or UMPC. Microsoft bestowed this name upon a category of tiny PCs that were supposed to become as ubiquitous as cell phones. But they were slow and outrageously expensive — Samsung’s Q1 cost $1,099 — and now they’re history.
More recently, Qualcomm tried to push the “Smartbook,” like a netbook but thinner and more power-efficient. Last year, ARM was blaming Adobe Flash for delays in bringing smartbooks to market. These little laptops were nowhere to be seen at CES 2011.
I wanted to compare these examples to netbooks and smartphones, but I can’t put a finger on how these two terms successfully entered the mainstream. What I can say is that when Nokia announced the Communicator 9000 in 1997, no one used the term “smartphone.” Ditto for the word “netbook” when Asus announced the Eee PC in 2007. The products came first, then came the jargon. It’s a cautionary tale as Intel foists the Ultrabook name on the tech world without any examples on the market.
As I’ve said before, I like what Intel is doing in terms of the actual product. People are going to prefer thinner, lighter laptops over clunky power hogs, as long as performance is sufficient. But that sounds like more of a philosophy than a specific product. If these things occupy 40 percent of the notebook market by the end of 2012, as Intel expects, shouldn’t we just be calling them “laptops?”