Looking Forward to 2012: Ultrabooks

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Toshiba / Intel

As 2011 quickly draws to a close, here’s what I’m most looking forward to in 2012. Check back each day this week for similar pieces from Graeme, Jared, Matt and Keith.

Ultrabooks

It’s taken the PC industry a while to reach the next major stage in notebook designs, but 2012 will be an interesting year thanks to ultrabooks. We’ll see MacBook Air-style offerings from major PC manufacturers that weigh around three pounds and measure less than an inch thick, but won’t require nearly as much compromise as ultraportable notebooks have in the past.

(MORE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook)

We’ve already seen a handful of ultrabooks from the likes of Acer, Toshiba and others but this next year will mark a big shift as around half the notebooks on the market will adopt these new razor-thin designs. It’ll result in another blow to physical media—CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, etc.—as ultrabooks will be too thin to sport built-in optical drives. It’ll be a while before notebooks with optical drives disappear forever, of course—and external drives are always an option.

Aside from the portability afforded by ultrabooks, I’m excited about the promises of more nimble speeds and instant-on features as flash-based storage and improved power management by new processors from Intel and AMD take hold. Instant-on features, especially—having your desktop ready right when you open the computer’s lid to return it from standby (with minimal battery loss)—may steal some thunder from tablets, so that’ll be interesting to watch.

(MORE: Toshiba Portege Z835 Ultrabook Review)

Battery life, too, will be important—more important than processor speed, in my opinion. The thinner these designs get, the smaller the batteries get. Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air currently tops out at seven hours under ideal conditions. If an ultrabook maker is able to produce a model in 2012 that measures less than an inch thick, weighs less than three pounds, and can boast 10 hours of use before needing to be recharged, it’ll be a big win.

And finally, I’m excited to watch how ultrabook pricing plays out in 2012. The current PC models start at around $900, Apple’s 11.6-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,000 and its 13-inch model starts at $1,300. It’s believed that the PC versions will drop to under $700 by the middle of next year, but keep a close eye on which company becomes the first to price an ultrabook below the mystical $500 mark. I’m not sure we’ll see a $499 price tag suggested directly from an ultrabook maker next year, but I bet we’ll see retailers discount some ultrabooks to below $500 around the holidays. Such pricing would not only affect notebooks, but would create even more downward pressure on tablets as well.

(MORE: Two Minute Video: MacBook Air Style, PC Price with the Acer ‘S3′ Ultrabook)

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