As we begin 2013, the collective eyes of the tech world are turning to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which generally serves as our first glimpse of the new tech landscape for the coming year.
Last year's CES saw explosive growth in the number of Ultrabooks, the industry eagerly began announcing the first of many Windows 8 PCs, and hybrid designs gave tablet PCs a new lease of life. So what's coming this year? Think more of the same, with a few potential game changers.
Ultrabooks may not have been the runaway success that Intel was hoping for, but Intel's push for thinner, lighter, longer-lasting laptops has certainly shifted consumer perceptions of just what a laptop should be. The thick desktop replacements of yesteryear have nearly vanished, and they likely won't be back.
What will be back, however, is competition. Manufacturers will be releasing new laptops and hybrids that have the same slim build as Ultrabooks, but feature processors from Intel rival AMD, or switch to lower-powered ARM processors. These systems won't compete on performance, but on price.
The Ultrabook market will continue to mature, as well. Value shoppers have largely shied away from Ultrabooks because the cost of entry was a bit high, but we can expect to see basic, more value-oriented Ultrabooks – as well as Ultra-lookalikes – come to the fore. Indeed, we’ve seen offers on Ultrabooks dipping below £500 over the Christmas period, and just today the Acer Aspire S3 with a 240GB SSD has been highlighted in our Deals section at £570.
Not all Ultrabooks will be that wallet-friendly, of course, as there will still be more expensive models around the £1,000 mark which will offer better features, with higher resolution screens becoming standard and storage getting cheaper. Spurred on by the success of Apple's Retina display and Fusion Drive, displays with a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution will become more widely available at sub-£1,000 prices, while both solid-state drives (SSDs) and hard drive/flash memory hybrid drives will offer more storage and better performance at lower price points.
The Windows 8 launch has come and gone, but Microsoft's new operating system isn't going anywhere, so keep an eye out for a lot of systems made for Windows 8. Specifically, you'll be seeing plenty of Ultrabooks boasting touchscreens, and a growing number of hybrid designs. Standard Ultrabooks with touch capability will be the more affordable option, but you can also expect convertible hybrids, which transform from laptop to tablet and back again, and detachable hybrids, which are slate PCs with keyboard docks. Whether or not these hybrid designs will take off, however, is yet to be seen.
A good number of these new systems will be using Intel's upcoming Haswell processors, the highly efficient follow-up to the current, third-generation Ivy Bridge processors. The new processors reduce power consumption dramatically – dropping to as little as 10 Watts or less in ultra-low-voltage models. Intel hopes to see Haswell-equipped Ultrabooks offering all-day battery life while allowing for even thinner laptops thanks to thinner components and lower operating temperatures.
Finally, expect one or two surprise announcements regarding new ways in which to interact with your PC. Individual OEMs are already rolling out proprietary gesture controls that utilise webcams to capture arm movements and hand waving, but these have thus far been gimmicky at best and unusable at worst.
Undoubtedly, some very smart folks are working to bring Kinect-like functionality to regular PC users, but no one has actually announced anything yet – making CES a prime opportunity to get some attention. Additionally, Intel has already announced that it is working closely with Nuance to develop Siri-like voice controls. Whether or not this capability becomes a reality anytime soon, CES is a likely place to announce the new feature.