Can Intel deliver sub-£500 Haswell-based Ultrabooks in time for Christmas?

Intel plans to hit the holiday shopping season running with the release of new Ultrabooks sporting the chip giant's next-generation "Haswell" processors, faster solid state drives (SSDs), high-resolution touchscreen displays, and "all day" battery life," plus voice and facial recognition, according to CRN.

The best part for price-conscious consumers — the Haswell generation of ultra-slim, fast-booting laptops will be available at a reasonable price point: $599 in the US, or around £400 based on the current exchange rate.

(Ed. note: it's worth pointing out that exact currency swaps are rare in the consumer electronics world. We'd be being more realistic if we crossed our fingers and hoped that the new-generation Haswell-based Ultrabooks arrived at under £500 in the UK.)

The word on the new Ultrabooks being readied for the holidays came from Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, who was speaking at last week's Intel Solutions Summit (ISS) for top Intel system builder and system integrator partners, CRN reported.

Intel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Skaugen, according to CRN, promised Intel partners that big changes were in store for Haswell-based Ultrabooks — going so far as to label the first wave of Ultrabook products as "just a retrofit of what was already in the market."

In addition to the lower price point, the next crop of Ultrabooks will feature new interface technologies Intel teased at last year's Intel Development Forum, including touch-enabled displays taking advantage of Microsoft's Windows 8 and next-generation Windows Blue operating systems, as well as voice recognition and facial-recognition technologies, he said.

What's more, battery life in Haswell-line Ultrabooks will finally achieve the length Intel was shooting for when it kicked off its Ultrabook initiative, according to Skaugen. Current Ultrabooks generally offer in the range of five hours of battery life, but Haswell-based products will deliver nine hours or more, Intel has said.

"We designed this chip from the ground up for the Ultrabook. You'll truly be able to leave your [Ultrabook] battery pack at home," CRN quoted the Intel executive as saying.

However, it's worth noting that Intel, and specifically Skaugen, have been down this road before. Almost exactly a year ago, he predicted the arrival of $699 (£460) Ultrabooks within a few months. While there have been a few models released under that price point — notably Sony's 14in Vaio T13, which generally sells for around £600 but has been spotted for as little as £360 in the past —the market hasn't exactly been flooded with super-affordable Ultrabooks priced under £600.

What most industry watchers agree upon, however, is that Ultrabooks really will have to come down in price to gain more traction with consumers. Despite their concerted efforts to promote the product category, it's been a mixed bag so far for Intel and its partners.

Ultrabooks have scarcely tanked since their introduction, but unit sales over the past five quarters have also failed to meet lofty expectations.

Intel introduced its Ultrabook concept in 2011, defining a new standard for ultra-thin laptops with fast boot times, security integration, and long battery life — largely taking cues from Apple's existing (and successful) line of MacBook Air products.

At the time, the goal was to produce ultrabooks priced at under $1,000 (£660), to which end Intel established a $300 million (£197m) fund for companies working on Ultrabook-related technologies.

Ultrabook designs were introduced by several of Intel's OEM partners in late-2011 and throughout 2012. Those products, using first Intel's "Sandy Bridge" processors and later the "Ivy Bridge" generation of Core-branded mobile chips, did moderately well in the market, though several PC makers wound up releasing Ultrabooks priced well north of the desired $1,000 mark.