One of the cool things about working here at HP is that I always get to catch up with like-minded, awesomely nerdy guys from time to time. (I mean that in the nicest, most sincere way possible – REALLY!) You go out for a shwerma and you come back with a cool little interview. I recently ran into John McCarthy, Product Manager for Premium Notebooks, and we had an interesting chat about where things are going in Ultrabook / Sleekbook space.
TheNextBench: To you, how would you sum up the difference between an Ultrabook and Sleekbook?
John McCarthy: An Ultrabook is optimized for what a customer wants in portability. It’s going to be super-fast, super-responsive. That’s the thing you want if you need ultimate portability in PC right now. In a Sleekbook, you’re able to configure your machine with different components – like AMD chips, a HDD…and in some cases, a good discrete graphics card. With those choices, a Sleekbook can be a great option for someone who wants in on thin, but with a tighter budget.
TNB: What are your thoughts as notebooks continue to chase this idea of slimmer, sleeker laptop?
JM: It’s exciting to see. The Ultrabook category started about a year ago and it was a big question mark in the industry – “what was it about?” “Could it really deliver on all these portability promises. We’ve already created some unique machines in the Ultrabook space. We’re excited and proud of our offerings that really lead the way in the space. With Spectre and the evolving ENVY line representing the best of the best.
TNB: It’s also interesting seeing the spec evolve. In our own lineup we have super-slim options, we have unique glass cases….and we have slightly beefier models that can opt for a discrete graphics boost. What are your thoughts on that?
JM: Different people have different needs. Step slightly above a tablet – has the lightning-fast speed, tons of storage….and yeah, a keyboard. Or people might want a real full-on skinny notebook at the other end of the spectrum.
TNB: Where we’re at now with technology, it feels like we’re finally catching up with what we’ve sought for a long time: really lightweight, but powerful portables.
JM: Absolutely, with this generation of notebooks, we’ve managed to get thinner and thinner with every generation. It’s just awesome to see that happening now – and I’m having a great time seeing what is coming out of our labs.
TNB: This is the part where I’d normally try to drill you for a hint about what is coming next…
JM: Nice try. We’ve got some awesome stuff in the works. We’re not quite ready to let it out of its cage.
TNB: So much for the “subtle” approach. How about a personal preference question for you: Out of all the stuff you see – either in the labs or in laptops already out – what stood out to you as the thing that mattered the most?
JM: Personally, the thing that I like best is how crazy-thin we’ve managed to get with the Ultrabook. To me, when a notebook gets that thin, it stops being this notebook that gets stuffed in a backpack or becomes a burden. It’s not lugged around. It’s something that just goes with you – and it changes the way I think about notebooks. A notebook used to be something I’d regret having to drag home and open. You can use these all day. Just slip in-and-out of a bag as you need them.
TNB: ...and you’re finding that the 3rd-gen Intel Core processor in some of these Ultrabooks is making a big difference for you?
JM: A lot of people in the PC industry remember the days of ultra-low voltage processors back with Windows 98, or XP or Vista….
TNB: …You don’t need to remind me of all that stuff. It’s starting to trigger flashbacks.
JM: Yep, trying to reconcile between small and underpowered parts….People have been trying to make ultrathin notebooks for a really long time. That’s nothing new. What I think has changed is that now you really can do everything that you want to do in a small notebook – from a productivity standpoint…and some entertainment.
Of course, there are still – and will continue to be – higher end systems that have much more horsepower. Whether it’s for gaming or content creation…or whatever…that need isn’t going away. It just might not be for everyone.
Long story short, yes, I think that Ultrabooks and Sleekbooks are awesome and changing how I do things.
TNB: So, out of all these laptops at your beck-and-call, what are you using day-to-day….and why?
JM: I’m using the ENVY 14 Spectre. I just love its design. It’s super-usable, the screen looks great and I used it every day for work. I go into a coffee shop and I still see heads turn people wondering, “what’s that?!?”
TNB: And, really, at the end of the day, it is all about the HumbleBrag for tech, isn’t it?
JM: It’s great when people see that “HP” logo on the back and people who didn’t know about it before are just looking at it, kinda blowing away their expectations of a PC.
TNB: All right, back on-topic! We’ve seen where things have come from with the thin-and-light category….where do you think it has to go next in general for the industry?
JM: I think that responsiveness is a big deal to people. Seeing SSD speeds and capacities increase – and find their way into the Ultrabook market – has been super-exciting. SSD technology has been emerging for a long time, but with Ultrabooks, it shows you the impact of fast data speeds. I want to see it get even more pervasive as the prices continue to come down.
It helps battery life last way longer, it makes systems way snappier, but there are a lot of reasons people don’t consider why solid state storage is great. If you want to cram a system down even thinner, the SSD allows that. So you wind up with these crazy-thin form factors that last all day and wake up instantly. On the same point, it also lets you keep form factors you have now and fit in larger batteries or graphics or whatever.
TNB: It’s funny. I know that having an SSD provided a speed boost, but when you think about how it takes up less space and brings down thermals in a machine…
JM: I think it’s a big inflection point in the industry that these thin designs are going to be able to drive big changes. Used to be the thermal designs forced a laptop to be an inch thick. Your optical drive forced it to be an inch thick….but SSDs really change the whole experience. You don’t have to wait for it anymore, it’s just there for you when you need it.
This is just one of the many people behind the awesome new laptops that we bring to market. Do you have a question for him? Hit the comments…and maybe I’ll run into him again at lunch!