Emerging Technologies: How Ultrabooks™ Are Paving the Way

This week, Forrester Research, an independent technology and market research company, released  an insightful report based on the results of an global survey that asked respondents what they thought were the most disruptive technologies that were currently emerging or about to emerge. The results really aren’t all that surprising; mostly skewed towards advances in mobile technology, with advances in user computing, sensors, and infrastructure. The common theme is definitely mobility – it’s all about making the technology meet the user wherever he or she needs to be, whatever that might look like. As I read through these, it struck me that much of the “emerging” tech talked about here included a lot of things we’re seeing with the Ultrabook™ device. In this article, we’re going to look at the Forrester report and see what kind of parallels we can come up with that are offered with the Ultrabook.

Four pillars

There appear to be four basic groups, or pillars, of emerging technology, and those are mobile, social, cloud, and data. This is where most of the innovation is happening, whether that is software or hardware. Building on these four pillars, Forrester came up with four new groups:

1)      End user computing technology

2)      Sensors and remote computing technologies

3)      Process data management technologies

4)      Infrastructure and application platforms

End user computing technology

This includes next-generation devices and UIs, new sensors, and new user interfaces. One of the most exciting developments to come around in the personal computing space in the last several years is touch. We’ve got touch screens on nearly everything nowadays: smartphones, and tablets. With the advent of touch sensors in the next generation of Ultrabooks, we’re really starting to see some fun stuff happening for both consumers and developers. 

Touchscreens in Ultrabooks emerged right around the same time as touch-enabled Windows*8, as well as touch capability in convertible form factors (like the Lenovo Yoga). What does it mean to have touch? Well, basically this means that developers can create completely new experiences for users, utilizing features that typically have only been seen on mobile devices. It also means that consumers can enjoy a whole new way to work and play using a device that melds together structures from both tablets and laptops. Add in the Ultrabook’s high-powered processors, keyboard, and other desktop features, and you’ve got the best of both worlds. 

There’s also gesture recognition as a input device/user interface, which is part of what is called “perceptual computing”, a style of personal computing experience that gives the devices we use every day the ability to interpret what we are doing via human-like senses. Instead of a mouse, we use our voice. Instead of a keyboard, we use gesture recognition. The jury is still out on whether or not these input devices will be made obsolete by this technology, but it’s certainly useful as an added extra input control (for more exciting developments in perceptual computing, we invite you to check out the Perceptual Computing Ultimate Coder Challenge).

Sensors and remote computing technologies

This tech would include “smart” devices that can sense, react, and communicate in a real environment, in-location positioning with GPS and in-building location sensors, and machine to machine networks.  This sounds a lot like contextual computing, which basically gives our gadgets the ability to be aware of their surroundings. Sound a little creepy? Well, maybe just a little. However, it makes for some pretty amazing computing experiences, as one developer found out in the Ultimate Coder Challenge:

“Through the development process, the team learned more about the potential of Ultrabook. The Soma Ultimate Coder blog explains one component of this potential: “[We wanted Wind Up Football] to be more aware of what’s going on around the user and adapt to [his or her] situation. A simple example of this would be to use the Ultrabook light sensor, clock, and GPS to track things like ambient light and what weather.com reports as the local weather, then alter the game’s environment to match. It’s dark outside? Crank up the field lights and add the fireflies. Daytime? Turn the stadium light off and add sharp daytime shadows. Rain? Snow? Heat wave? Any or all of those things could be reflected in the game’s environment.”

 Development of the contextual computing components, such as weather-related graphics evolved throughout the process. Skaggs explains: “The nature of the contest was to try to see what application is best suited for Ultrabook. We didn’t want to just throw features in there for the sake of the contest. So that led into some larger conversations about what was the goal of the Ultrabook platform. One of the answers to that question was the concept of portability and awareness of user location. So making the game aware, at least to some level, of its surroundings and its context felt like a really big move in that direction. It didn’t require a whole lot of extra work; it just required some different thinking.”

Process data management technologies

This group would focus on “smart process” applications, taking into account how real world business practices work, with advanced analytics and cheap cloud computing. It’s all about enabling more value from existing data. This put me in mind of transparent computing, which is basically enabling the user to do what they want to do:

“Consumers, for the most part, don’t really care much about the hardware that they’re holding, the specs that hardware offers, or the process by which that particular piece of hardware came to be available. What they are really interested in what they can do with that hardware; i.e., what kind of programs they can run on it and what tasks they can accomplish.”

The Ultrabook is a perfect example of user experience meets design/form factor, and developers who create apps to take advantage of this are able to meet users where they are. The concept of user experience fits in well with Intel’s idea of transparent computing, which is basically designing with the user in mind rather than a pre-arranged set of ideas. It’s all about what the user is looking for as far as accessibility and usability.

Infrastructure and application platforms

One of the more interesting bits of data to come out in this report was this particular group, wrapped around how we manage our data. Big data, storage solutions, cloud application frameworks, and new identity and trust models – possibly doing away completely with our traditional usernames and passwords one day. That last one is something that Ultrabook device technology is starting to address with NFC (near field communication).

There are different schools of thought on how much personalized information is safe to share via NFC; personally, I’m definitely on the side that says “as little as possible”. But wouldn’t it be nice to have all your stored networking information (name, email, phone, business card, resume, past jobs, LinkedIn profile, portfolio of work, articles, etc.) in one convenient hub that could be instantly ported over via NFC to someone you’re talking to? You could have different levels of shareability on this as well: perhaps one level for networking contacts, one level for friends, one level for family, and so on. Instead of doing the business card dance with promises to email more later, you could just use an app on your NFC-enabled Ultrabook to instantly transfer information.

What’s the next emerging tech?

Ask five different people what they think is coming up in tech, and you’ll get five different answers (which is what this article is all about!). What do you think is the most exciting development happening in tech right now? Share with us in the comments.