TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's struggling computer makers will use next week's Computex show to promote a new generation of ultra-thin laptops that might be their last hope of turning back the seemingly unstoppable momentum of Apple's iPad and other hot-selling tablets.
The brainchild of Intel Corp., the sleek laptop-tablet hybrid known as Ultrabook is 0.8 inches (20 mm) thick and features instant log on and ultra-sharp visual images.
Taipei's Computex, the world's second-largest computer show, will display more than a dozen 12- to 17-inch Ultrabook models powered by Intel's new generation of "Ivy Bridge" processors, which were unveiled in April.
Ultrabook's success is crucial for computer makers and others in the industry. World PC sales have stalled since Apple's 2010 launch of the slickly designed iPad made personal computing and the Internet even more portable for consumers.
The onslaught of the iPad and a host of imitators has cut deeply into the revenues of Taiwan's top two brands – Acer and AsusTek Computer Inc. Acer has slipped to the world's fourth largest PC vendor from No. 2 amid stalled sales, while AsusTek comes in fifth.
"All the companies are pinning their hope on Ultrabook, which in fact may be their last hope," said Stephen Su, a market analyst at Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute.
"If the current market trend continues, tablet sales may exceed PC sales by 2016, and they hope Ultrabook can reverse the trend," he said.
The "Ivy Bridge" processors use the 22-nanometer process technology that allows for more powerful and electricity-efficient computing devices than the typical tablet. It will employ Microsoft Corp.'s much ballyhooed Windows 8 software once that debuts later this year. Su said the Ultrabook's success depends to a large extent on how well Windows 8 is received.
Ultrabooks were first sold in the final quarter of last year. The hybrid model is a creation of the decades-old alliance between Taiwan and technology giants Intel and Microsoft.
Using Intel chips and Windows software, Taiwanese makers produce more than 90 percent of the laptops sold in the world, for global brands including Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Almost all the units are assembled in China.
Acer, Taiwan's largest computer vendor, predicts Ultrabook will account for up to 20 percent of its total PC shipments toward the final quarter this year. But its executives declined to make longer term forecasts, citing the market's volatility and the sputtering global economy.
"Ultrabook sales are gaining momentum, and with the new Windows software, it will give users a touch screen experience that's equal to or excels that of tablets currently in the market," said Henry Wang of Acer.
According to research firm Gartner Inc., global PC shipments are expected to gain a lackluster 4.4 percent to 368 million machines in 2012, after shrinking 1.4 percent in 2011.
In contrast, tablet sales have soared. Shipments totaled 17.6 million in 2011, with iPads taking 85 percent and Samsung's Galaxy 11 percent, according to Gartner. The research firm puts tablet sales forecast at 60 million in 2012 and 119 million in 2013.
As volumes rise, prices of Ultrabooks could fall from $1,000 to $800 in the second half to become a viable competitor to the light and ultracompact MacBook Air, analysts say. The Apple laptop now starts at $999.
Taiwan's Topology Research Institute predicts Ultrabook can account for 50 percent of laptops sold in the world by 2014.
"MacBook Air may have appeal to Apple fans and some professionals, but others may like Ultrabook better because they are more familiar with its features," said Amily Chen, a Topology analyst.
By working with Intel, the entire Taiwanese computer industry could get much needed technology support from the chip giant, she said.
"To make it more power efficient, the ultralight computer requires screen drive IC and other components that are more complicated to build," she said.
Taiwanese vendors are also trying to get a piece of the ever-expanding tablet market. Scores of new models will be unveiled during Computex's five-day run, organizers say.
AsusTek's 10-inch Android-powered Transformer has sold well and the company is expected to unveil several new models at Computex. Google reportedly has been collaborating with AsusTek in rolling out a 7-inch tablet computer to compete with Amazon's low-priced Kindle Fire.
Touchscreen Password To Unlock
The Microsoft team showed off a neat new password system to unlock Windows 8 computers. When your computer is locked, normally you have to type in a text password to regain access to the system; Windows 8 gives the user an option to unlock via a combination of touches and swipes, which might sound familiar to Android users.<br> <br> When setting up your password, you choose a picture, and you select where on the picture you want to tap and swipe in order to unlock the screen. For example, at the Windows Build conference, Windows Corporate Vice President Julie Larson-Green showed off her picture-password: a photo of her daughter (above) standing on a pier holding a glass of lemonade appeared, and Larson-Green tapped on her daughter's nose, then on the glass of lemonade, then drew a line from the edge of the pier to the edge of the glass of lemonade. Voila! The screen was unlocked. <br>
Email Notifications On Lock Screen
Speaking of that screen, Windows 8 has taken another cue from mobile operating systems and will automatically show on the lock screen relevant information like upcoming calendar events and emails received when the user was away from the keyboard. This is a small upgrade, but it eliminates the need to unlock your computer just to see if you missed anything while you were gone: Windows 8 will tell you from the moment you return your screen what happened during your time away. <br> <br> The lock screen also displays battery information, time and any instant messages you may have missed while you were away from your device.<br> <br> You might be thinking to yourself (à la George Bluth in the "Spring Breakout" episode of Arrested Development), "What does that save, like two seconds?" But, if you've used a Windows or Android smartphone with this feature, you know how helpful it can <em>feel</em> to know immediately about what you missed when you were unplugged.
Really Fast Booting
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/windows-8-pictures_n_960301.html" target="_hplink">This one was teased ahead of the Build Conference</a>, but they showed it off on-stage anyway, and it is still very impressive. Windows 8 will apparently boot in 8 seconds, thanks to a new process of putting the kernel session to sleep rather than closing it out altogether and having to reboot it completely. See the video (above) for a demonstration of how fast a computer running Windows 8 will be able to boot up from no power to start screen.
System Refresh Without Deleting Music, Movies Or Documents
No, this doesn't mean you can throw away your external hard drive or cancel your Dropbox account. But it may prove to be a convenient and hardware-less way to restore your system without losing all of your precious, precious media, or that novel you've been working on. A push of the button from the Control Panel activates the system refresh, making it pretty convenient for the average PC user.
The New Task Manager
As Sinofsky noted at the Build Conference, it's been two decades since Microsoft redesigned its task manager, and Windows 8 brings a new look and interface to what is (unfortunately) one of my most used Windows utilities. <br> <br> The new task manager looks great--easy to read and use, with all the pertinent information lined up in columns. As a bonus, the task manager also allows you to add and delete which programs you want to automatically load at startup (hallelujah!).<br> <br> Those "suspended" apps you see, by the way? When you are running apps in the tablet-ified 'Metro' view, they stop running when you switch over to 'Desktop' view, saving you CPU usage. Good idea, Microsoft.
Split Keyboard For Thumb-Typers
Are you a thumb-typer? When you hold a tablet, do you type with your thumbs rather than all of your fingers? Or, do you type a lot on the go, where you can't put your slate down for proper Mavis Beacon typing technique?<br> <br> Then the thumb-typing keyboard--selectable from the keyboard menu--might just be for you.
The Share Charm
Sitting on the start bar in 'Metro View' is the "Share Charm," a little button that pulls up a sidebar (seen above) for easy sharing through a number of different apps. Microsoft put much of its focus on interactivity and connectivity--from apps playing well with each other, to the fact that all Windows 7 programs will run on Windows 8, to putting much of Windows Live in the cloud--and the Share charm is no different. It's a handy little utility baked into Windows 8 that allows users to share what they're looking at with anyone in their address book using the automatic Share program. Select what you want to share and who you want to share it with, add an optional message and press 'Send."
More Free RAM
If all of these features, multiple interfaces and visually-striking touch-and-slide systems look like they use a lot of RAM--well, they don't. According to Sinofsky, Windows 8 takes up 281MB to run on startup, versus 404MB for Windows 7 (and this is the Windows 8 Developer's Beta!). Another encouraging sign from an operating system that has historically been accused of memory hogging. <br> <br>