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Is a Windows 8 Ultrabook a Mobile Device? Yes, I Think It Is.

If you’re the type who refers to the Oxford English Dictionary during simple Scrabble games, you and I might not see eye to eye on whether or not to call an UltraBook PC a mobile device.

By old-school, formal definitions, Ultrabooks are not ‘devices’. They sport Intel CPUs and run Microsoft Windows – two products and vendors that carry the banner for the PC era.

The Lenovo Yoga’s flexible chassis helps it convert from UltraBook to tablet.

Also, UltraBooks have keyboards and screens that nearly match the size of traditional laptops. So does their price, at about $1,000.

But let’s ignore specs – which, after all, most consumers do – in favor of user experience. By that paradigm, Ultrabooks are definitely mobile. And when Windows 8 arrives later this year, Ultrabooks will definitely act more like devices than PCs. That has huge implications for the enterprise. Here’s why:

1) Windows 8 Ultrabooks will boot ultra-fast.

In this time-obsessed society, the instant-on convenience of smartphones and tablets is one of their biggest advantages over Windows laptops. For instance, for all of 2010 and part of 2011, I was forced to use a 4-year-old Dell Latitude D630 laptop running Windows XP Pro for work. Not only was the D630 an unintended homage to neo-Brutalist architecture at its ugliest, but I got to know every well how loooonnnggg it took to boot every morning.

Well, here’s a home-made video showing Windows 8 booting on a D630 laptop with a regular spinning hard drive in just 8 seconds.

By comparison, it takes my 2010 iPad 25 seconds to cold boot, and my iPhone 4 an even longer 35 seconds to boot. In other words, three to five times longer.

Here’s another video, this one from Microsoft, showing a Windows 8 laptop, probably running a faster Solid-State Drive, seemingly booting in under 5 seconds.

(Even more impressive is this video of an ARM-based Samsung tablet apparently cold-booting Windows 8 almost as quickly as my iPad wakes from sleep mode. But let’s not digress.)

As commentators rightly point out, many of the videos today depict stripped-down Developer Editions of Windows 8, which lack many of the start-up items and services in actual shipping copies of Windows. Also, these are presumably fresh, clean installs of Windows 8. So no apps, no spyware, no registry gunk, etc. to slow things down.

Also, in practice, most users won’t be cold-booting their PCs or devices, they’ll prefer to the faster wake-from-sleep-mode. That’s something Windows has always been less reliable at than smartphones or tablets. It remains to be seen whether Windows 8 Ultrabook users will be able to comfortably put their machines to sleep, or whether they’ll choose to go with the slower but more reliable hibernate mode instead.

Still, I’m hopeful that with the pressure iOS, Android and other mobile OSes are putting on Microsoft, the new Windows 8 will start acting a lot more like them, rather than the Blue-Screen-of-Death Windows we used to hate.

2) Ultrabooks are skinny and light, just like a tablet.

For instance, Ultrabooks come very very close to matching tablets in the skinny-as-a-rail category. My iPad is about 13 mm thin. The coming Acer Aspire S5 is a mere 15 mm thin at its thickest point, despite operating under the handicap of having a keyboard.

By length and width, Ultrabooks also start to approach tablet-esque proportions. The same goes for weight. The typical business-class laptop weighs 4-6 pounds. Most Ultrabooks tip the scales at half of that, between 2.5 to 3 pounds. That is closer to the 1.3 pound iPad.

The bottom line: unless you are tween or a petite woman who refuses to carry anything but tiny, tiny purses, you should be able to tote an Ultrabook around in your bag of choice.

The other way Ultrabooks are akin to tablets is that many of them are convertible, meaning they can be used in either keyboard mode or touch-tablet mode. See the exciting Lenovo Yoga, which is the apparently the first bendable laptop. Speaking of touch…

3) Ultrabooks will sport all of the sensors and inputs standard on devices.

Multi-touch swiping? Check. An accelerometer so you can play games by moving the laptop around in the air? Check. Siri-like speech recognition as well as Xbox Kinect-like in-air gestures? That’s coming, too, says Intel.

4) Battery life will be excellent.

To be considered mobile, a device should enable a user to work for an entire business day (8 hours) without a recharge. Most Ultrabooks come very close to a true 8 hours of computing, while some top that. Both the HP Folio 13 and the Envy 14 Spectre can do 9 hours. Expect more Ultrabooks to beat that.

5) Ultrabooks will invade businesses via Bring Your Own policies.

People talk about fancy smartphones and tablets being ‘executive jewelry,’ but their popularity has devalued them as status symbols. No, whenever I go to tech conferences, it’s the executives who pull out the MacBook Airs who get the sidelong glances of envy. I guarantee you that most of those are personal laptops that employees had to pester their IT manager to be allowed to use.

After all, when the ‘Bring Your Own…’ movement was kicking into gear late last decade, IT managers were calling it Bring Your Own Computer, not Bring Your Own Device, since they figured it would be fancy laptops like the MacBook Air that employees would want to bring to work.

Well, the recession hit, and Bring Your Own Computer failed to take off. Instead, consumers instead focused their energy on bringing their iPads and Droid phones to work.

But now that BYOD has blazed the trail, expect companies to be much more open to BYOC, especially if that laptop is running a version of Windows.

Also, I consider Ultrabooks to be the evolutionary descendent of Thin-and-Light class notebooks – the Homo Sapien to the Thin-and-Light’s Homo Erectus (netbooks in this analogy would be an evolutionary dead end, like Neanderthals). That means they are still consumer-class devices, meaning that for now most companies won’t buy them for employees. The compromise, I believe, will be allowing personal Ultrabooks into the workplace.

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