Intel Ultrabooks: How Thin Is Too Thin?

By | Apr 19, 2012

Intel has released specifications on how thin ultrabooks can be and still support various design features. It seems that with ultrabooks, as in other parts of the popular culture, thin is in. But these Intel ultrabooks guidelines raise the question of whether "thinspo" in ultrabook (and tablet) design has gotten out of hand.

In principle, this should be purely a consumer issue. But long before the "consumerization of IT" became an industry buzz phrase, business computing had a complex relationship with the consumer market. In the mainframe era, computers were strictly for business. But the PC era--as the very phrase "personal computers" makes clear--entangled business and consumer computing. And midsize firms, along with consumers, have been living with the consequences ever since.

Fashionably Slim?

As reported by Brooke Crothers at CNET, the color-coded guidelines for ultrabooks show which features can be supported, which are marginal, or which cannot be supported within a given thickness.

The language is carefully hedged. The listing claims to be neither specifications nor requirements for ultrabooks using Intel chips. The guidelines are not even recommendations, but merely "an engineering estimate to meet z-height challenge." For example, a thickness of 15 mm (0.6 inches) precludes VGA ports and imposes restrictions on several other components. In contrast, 21 mm (0.82 inches) permits full design and component flexibility.

The Intel ultrabooks guidelines seem like a delicate pushback against the pressure to manufacture ever-thinner ultrabooks. Much of this pressure can be traced to Apple, whose advertising makes a big deal (pun intended) of how thin the MacBook Air is.

Cultural Pressures

But more broadly, the push for ultra-thin ultrabooks can be traced to the same social attitudes that have made anorexia a widespsread problem and caused social networks such as Tumblr and Pinterest crack down on "thinspo" pages.

However serious the broader social issue, this would not be a specific concern for IT shops at midsize businesses were it not for the influence of consumer trends on business computing. As noted earlier, there is nothing new about the consumerization of IT.

It has been happening since the early 1980s. That is when similar PC models running similar Windows operating systems began appearing both at home and in the office. And it has influenced business computing and the IT environment in a multitude of ways.

To take one long-established example, the use of a mouse in word processing is inconvenient: It pulls your hand away from the keyboard. But Apple popularized the mouse, and word processing is still stuck with it.

Now the consumer-centric push is for mobile devices and bring-your-own-device (BYOD), and thinner ultrabooks. These devices may not be suited to business use, but midsize and other business will be stuck with them anyway. And all indications are that consumer-market pressures will continue to influence business computing in a multitude of ways.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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