16 Ultrabook Convertible Designs Go Head to Head

Consumers define their own computing experience from choice of Ultrabook convertible form factors.

Computers may be getting thinner and lighter, but it turns out that thinner isn’t automatically better and consumers won’t abide flimsy construction.

Ultrabook Convertible Form Factors

At an Intel model shop, engineers including Russell Aoki created mock-ups of convertible designs.

Some 570 computer users were brought to two bland conference rooms recently — one in Hamburg, Germany, the other in Chicago — where they were able to pick up, handle, poke, prod and generally get a feel for seven different Ultrabook convertible prototypes. The ultra-realistic mock-ups demonstrated how different Ultrabook convertibles — with models such as “The Swivel,” “The Floating Slider” and “The Ferris Wheel” — will go from laptop-style to tablet. As the consumers examined each of the mock-ups, Intel researchers and engineers behind a two-way mirror carefully noted the users’ reactions.

Rob Deline of the Intel PC Client Group said, “We were looking for any sweet spots. Do end users gravitate to a certain screen size? A certain folding mechanism? Detachable vs. non-detachable? Do they prefer low weight or thinness?”

Those consumer preferences have physical, real-world consequences that will affect engineering and design decisions for the Ultrabook convertibles that manufacturers are now designing.

Creating Ultrabook Convertible Form Factors

As Russell Aoki, an Intel engineer who co-led the field study put it, “We couldn’t just go out and ask people what they want in an Ultrabook convertible because nobody yet knows what an Ultrabook convertible is. You have to put something in front of them, get it in their hands to get an emotional response. And from that we can extract what the engineering requirements are — and then innovate in that space.”

Ultrabook Convertible Floating Slider and Ferris Wheel

Study participants check out "floating slider" and "Ferris Wheel" convertible designs.

The Intel research and engineering teams worked together come up with the array of form factors and identify areas that needed to be studied, such as screen size and weight. Crucially, engineers created detailed physical mockups of different convertible form factors.

Intel engineers in a lab in Dupont, Wash. crafted mock-ups that had real keyboards, working hinges and connectors, and even brushed aluminum finishes.

“They were pretty close to what you might see in 2013,” Aoki said.

Intel researcher Dinesh Mathew said, “We had different thicknesses, weights and screen sizes — 16 prototypes in all.”

Then, groups of 10 to 12 consumers were brought into those conference rooms in Chicago and Hamburg. The participants had a few minutes to handle the prototypes — as well as a couple of real Ultrabook convertibles that are on the market now — and were then asked their preferences.

In Chicago, when Intel asked one 36-year-old consumer what he thought of the convertibles, he said, “They incorporate the best of both worlds: The iPad and the laptop worlds.”

A 29-year-old participant in Hamburg said, “I expect a big display for multi-tasking work as well as a long battery life, but at the same time the display should be turnable and foldable for using it as a tablet. If the ideal Ultrabook convertible meets these requirements in reality, I would go and buy it immediately.”

Thinner Not Always Better

Ultrabook Convertible User Testing Swivel Design

A study participant plays with a "swivel"-style Ultrabook convertible.

But which of the seven form factors hit the “sweet spot”? Which one will win out?

Intel’s Deline said, “The research showed there was no one convertible mechanism that people preferred.”

“I think that there will be multiple sweet spots,” he said, “because what’s good for you isn’t necessarily good for me. But we have a bunch of OEMs placing bets on all of these form factors, so in totality, the industry will eventually hit the real sweet spots.”

Deline said the data is just beginning to come in — it’s still too early to make definitive judgments. But he added that the research, which is still being analyzed, has revealed some surprising trends:

  • Thinner isn’t necessarily better. Going from a one-inch-thick chassis to half an inch is noticeable. But going from 0.8 inch thick to 0.7 is not nearly as noticeable and drives costs up.
  • Build quality matters. When the study participants perceived that a particular hinge design wouldn’t last, or a particular screen was too wobbly, that was often a deal breaker.
  • People like convertibles because they feel they’re getting two devices in one.

The Intel research team is disseminating the findings internally and to OEMs and planning additional research with consumers in Shanghai.

“I’ve been at Intel for 16 years as a mechanical engineer,” Aoki said, “and this is probably one of the projects that I’m most proud and excited about. I feel like we’re doing this the right way. We’re understanding what consumers really want in a convertible. We’re not just guessing.”

16 Ultrabook Convertible Designs Go Head to Head

Consumers define their own computing experience from choice of Ultrabook convertible form factors.

Computers may be getting thinner and lighter, but it turns out that thinner isn’t automatically better and consumers won’t abide flimsy construction.

Ultrabook Convertible Form Factors

At an Intel model shop, engineers including Russell Aoki created mock-ups of convertible designs.

Some 570 computer users were brought to two bland conference rooms recently — one in Hamburg, Germany, the other in Chicago — where they were able to pick up, handle, poke, prod and generally get a feel for seven different Ultrabook convertible prototypes. The ultra-realistic mock-ups demonstrated how different Ultrabook convertibles — with models such as “The Swivel,” “The Floating Slider” and “The Ferris Wheel” — will go from laptop-style to tablet. As the consumers examined each of the mock-ups, Intel researchers and engineers behind a two-way mirror carefully noted the users’ reactions.

Rob Deline of the Intel PC Client Group said, “We were looking for any sweet spots. Do end users gravitate to a certain screen size? A certain folding mechanism? Detachable vs. non-detachable? Do they prefer low weight or thinness?”

Those consumer preferences have physical, real-world consequences that will affect engineering and design decisions for the Ultrabook convertibles that manufacturers are now designing.

Creating Ultrabook Convertible Form Factors

As Russell Aoki, an Intel engineer who co-led the field study put it, “We couldn’t just go out and ask people what they want in an Ultrabook convertible because nobody yet knows what an Ultrabook convertible is. You have to put something in front of them, get it in their hands to get an emotional response. And from that we can extract what the engineering requirements are — and then innovate in that space.”

Ultrabook Convertible Floating Slider and Ferris Wheel

Study participants check out "floating slider" and "Ferris Wheel" convertible designs.

The Intel research and engineering teams worked together come up with the array of form factors and identify areas that needed to be studied, such as screen size and weight. Crucially, engineers created detailed physical mockups of different convertible form factors.

Intel engineers in a lab in Dupont, Wash. crafted mock-ups that had real keyboards, working hinges and connectors, and even brushed aluminum finishes.

“They were pretty close to what you might see in 2013,” Aoki said.

Intel researcher Dinesh Mathew said, “We had different thicknesses, weights and screen sizes — 16 prototypes in all.”

Then, groups of 10 to 12 consumers were brought into those conference rooms in Chicago and Hamburg. The participants had a few minutes to handle the prototypes — as well as a couple of real Ultrabook convertibles that are on the market now — and were then asked their preferences.

In Chicago, when Intel asked one 36-year-old consumer what he thought of the convertibles, he said, “They incorporate the best of both worlds: The iPad and the laptop worlds.”

A 29-year-old participant in Hamburg said, “I expect a big display for multi-tasking work as well as a long battery life, but at the same time the display should be turnable and foldable for using it as a tablet. If the ideal Ultrabook convertible meets these requirements in reality, I would go and buy it immediately.”

Thinner Not Always Better

Ultrabook Convertible User Testing Swivel Design

A study participant plays with a "swivel"-style Ultrabook convertible.

But which of the seven form factors hit the “sweet spot”? Which one will win out?

Intel’s Deline said, “The research showed there was no one convertible mechanism that people preferred.”

“I think that there will be multiple sweet spots,” he said, “because what’s good for you isn’t necessarily good for me. But we have a bunch of OEMs placing bets on all of these form factors, so in totality, the industry will eventually hit the real sweet spots.”

Deline said the data is just beginning to come in — it’s still too early to make definitive judgments. But he added that the research, which is still being analyzed, has revealed some surprising trends:

  • Thinner isn’t necessarily better. Going from a one-inch-thick chassis to half an inch is noticeable. But going from 0.8 inch thick to 0.7 is not nearly as noticeable and drives costs up.
  • Build quality matters. When the study participants perceived that a particular hinge design wouldn’t last, or a particular screen was too wobbly, that was often a deal breaker.
  • People like convertibles because they feel they’re getting two devices in one.

The Intel research team is disseminating the findings internally and to OEMs and planning additional research with consumers in Shanghai.

“I’ve been at Intel for 16 years as a mechanical engineer,” Aoki said, “and this is probably one of the projects that I’m most proud and excited about. I feel like we’re doing this the right way. We’re understanding what consumers really want in a convertible. We’re not just guessing.”