Intel hails Florence prototype as the notebook of the future

Intel is working on a reference design known as "Florence" for mobile products that expands upon a convertible Tablet PC...

Intel is working on a reference design known as "Florence" for mobile products that expands upon a convertible Tablet PC blueprint to incorporate a double-hinged design.

Nick Oakley, an industrial designer in Intel's Mobile Platforms Group, said the main idea was to combine the portability of the Tablet PC with the ease of data entry provided by a laptop's keyboard.

Several Tablet PC makers, such as Toshiba, have released models that can be used as either Tablet PCs or conventional notebooks. These convertible devices come with a display that swivels to cover the keyboard when used in Tablet PC mode.

Intel's non-working prototype both a base that rotates to enter Tablet PC mode, and a keyboard with its own separate hinge.

"With tablets, you can stand up, walk around and make notes. But with notebooks you're fundamentally lap-bound or desk-bound, Oakley said.

"What we tried to do was try to find a way to make a tablet work as well as a notebook, where you can hold the device like a tablet, and can use a little keyboard."

The prototype can be opened and closed like conventional notebook,. To use Florence like a Tablet PC, the base of the unit rotates almost 360 degrees underneath the 12.1-inch display, disabling the keyboard once the base passes through 180 degrees. But if the user wants to enter information with the keyboard while the device is in Tablet PC mode, he or she can bring the keyboard down below the display while the base remains folded behind the display.

The 7mm-thick keyboard could then be folded up against the display, leaving a small gap at the top of the display that could still show information such as incoming e-mail or a calendar appointment.

Oakley said the ability to walk down the hall to a meeting while still having quick access to both the keyboard and the display will appeal to many users, while users accustomed to Tablet PCs can keep the device in that mode while they travel.

He stressed that Florence is just a prototype, and that its main goal was to get people both inside and outside Intel thinking about future notebook designs.

"By creating concepts, you ask questions of users that feed back into how Intel goes about developing technology road maps," he said.

Oakley admitted the multiple hinges could present a problem, and future designs will have to ensure those hinges are sturdy.

Notebook sales as a whole are growing at around 15%, while desktop sales are stagnant, or falling, analysts have said.

Read more on Mobile hardware