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Amazon and Google made their competitors to the iPad smaller than Apple’s tablet, with seven-inch screens (measured diagonally) as opposed to their foe’s 10-inch display. Chip maker Intel today revealed it has decided bigger is better, demonstrating a desktop computer whose touch-sensitive screen detaches to become a whopping 27-inch tablet with a four-hour battery life.

“This system is intended to move around the house, for new experiences, uses, and collaboration,” said Ernesto Martinez, a client innovation engineer at Intel who helped develop the prototype. “When you are working, it has all the features of a desktop. At the end of the day, you lay it down to play with the kids or take it to your room and hang it on the wall to use as a TV.”

The display of Intel’s new prototype has 1080p HD resolution, is about 2.5 inches thick, and contains a processor and all the components a PC needs, as well as two large, flat batteries. For desktop use, it can be set on a dock that charges the computer, connects to a keyboard and mouse, and contains a DVD drive, ports, and a graphics processor to allow high-performance gaming. The touch interface can be used both when the display is docked and when it isn’t.

Martinez presented the prototype yesterday in a session for computing manufacturers’ engineers held at the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco, the company’s annual technology conference. Attendees were told that Intel intends to spend significant resources developing more prototypes and working with manufacturers to help establish such computers as a popular choice for both home users and businesses.

Desktop PCs with all their components built into the display, known as all-in-one PCs, are already available to buy, although they are relatively uncommon. Intel describes its new category as adaptive all-in-one PCs.

The prototype was powered by a preview version of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system, which is designed to support both touch and keyboard and mouse input (see “Microsoft Gambles on a Tablet Future”). Adaptive all-in-ones are intended to be controlled by voice and arm and hand gestures as well, says Martinez.

Intel showed off its voice-control system, designed for use on laptops, too, in a separate session today; this uses of voice-recognition technology by Nuance, which also powers Apple’s Siri. The next prototype adaptive all-in-one PCs will feature 3-D cameras, allowing gesture control like that which Intel demonstrated on laptop computers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier in the year (see “Intel Laptops Feature Touch, Gesture, and Voice Control”).

One of the main priorities for Intel’s engineers is to make adaptive all-in-one computers lighter, said Martinez, primarily by working with screen and battery manufacturers. Just over a third of the current prototype’s 14 pounds is made up of the touch components of the display. A significant part of that comes from the glass panel, just under two millimeters thick, which gives the panel a solid feel, like that of an iPad or smartphone, despite the display’s large size. Future versions will likely have higher-resolution “4K” displays, with approximately four times the pixels of HD resolution.

Intel is also encouraging and helping companies to develop applications for the new desktop design. “We are working with several partners in the industry to create new applications that allow multiple users to interact at the same time with the panel,” said Martinez, “not only on the consumer side but also on the business side.”

Another version of the new design in development has all its processing power in its docking station, so that the detachable screen is just a portable display connected by a Wi-Fi link. This should allow the tablet to be lighter and more portable, said Martinez. Tests suggest it will have a working radius of about 50 feet even through walls, enough for a typical U.S. home.

Existing all-in-one computers have attracted criticism from some Apple fans and reviewers who point out that they seem inspired by Apple’s successful iMac line of computers. However, there are no public indications yet that Apple is planning to integrate touch, voice, or gesture control into its iMacs, or to make it possible to detach the screen.

Intel’s introduction of the adaptive all-in-one design is reminiscent of its two-year-old campaign to breathe new life into the market for laptop computers by helping manufacturers create very light models marketed as “ultrabooks.” That campaign was dismissed by some critics as an ill-judged—or panicked—response to the success of Apple’s MacBook Air and to mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets, almost none of which contain Intel chips.

Lynda Grindstaff, an innovation segment manager at Intel working on the new concept, acknowledged that the push for adaptive all-in-one PCs is something of a response to a lack of excitement about and innovation in desktop PCs in recent years, but she said they will offer something genuinely new. “The traditional desktop is a box that’s beige, black, or brown. Most likely it’s under the desk,” she said. “Our adaptive all-in-one [design] is going to change the way that people interact with their desktop PCs.”

Grindstaff suggested that home users will find themselves detaching the screen of an adaptive all-in-one to play board games or collaborate with a family member to sort through holiday snaps. Business users will also benefit from the opportunity to collaborate on a single large touch screen, she said, and from the opportunity for portable high-quality videoconferencing.

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Credit: Tom Simonite | Technology Review

Tagged: Computing, Communications, Google, Intel, mobile devices, Amazon, tablets

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