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A laptop with two screens – one on the inside and another on the outside of the lid – certainly came as a surprise to many buyers passing through the booth of Taiwanese manufacturer Asus at Asia’s biggest computer show Computex this week.

“It will be really convenient, especially when I travel, because I can use the notebook side for typing emails and the tablet side for watching movies,” was one buyers view.

And the dual screen could also be handy if “you want to show a friend something on your screen and she’s sitting across from you – you don’t have to turn your laptop around, the other screen can show the same thing or other content,” added Danny Huang, an Asus product manager.

It weighs only 1.2kg, the 17mm-thick device is one of a wide array of new  thin and lightweight laptops unveiled at Computex, most of them offering touchscreen functions and other features with this one aimed at taking back some of the market share from more popular tablets. They all run Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system, and many are expected to hit the market later this year.

Some have very unusual features indeed – screens that can be detached or reverse-folded to switch from the clam-shell laptop mode to a tablet, and displays that can slide closer to the user. Others come with an activation code that protects the laptop from being used if it is stolen. If you lose such a device, you’ll simply need to hook up to your internet service provider’s website and change the laptop’s status to “locked”, this will send a so-called “poison pill” to the computer, shutting down the hardware

Gesture and voice

But while there’s a lot of excitement about what these latest notebooks have to offer today, many seem convinced that in a few years, laptops will offer even more fancier features – such as the ability to recognise hand or voice commands.

Gesture control via an external sensor similar to a webcam already exists for computers and TV screens, and Apple’s latest iPhone 4S has created a buzz with its voice assistant, Siri. But Intel and a number of PC manufacturers are now interested in integrating such technology into laptops of the future.

“That will be fantastic for our users – ultrabooks and laptops will become a lot more convenient for them,” said Lifang Tseng, product marketing manager at Intel’s Taiwan office. “For instance, if you’re driving and you want to turn on your computer, you can just say: ‘Hi, Lifang login’. Once it recognises your voice, it will turn itself on.

“And if you say: ‘I want to make an appointment with Cindy at 10am tomorrow morning’, it can make a note on your calendar and even send an invitation to that person.”

Gesture control could be used, for an instance, to browse recipes without touching the screen or keyboard while cooking, when your hands are covered in flour or oil.

Industry officials say it’s hard to be precise about when these features will become available for notebooks, but some estimate it will happen in two to three years.

Gesture recognition and voice control are already applied elsewhere – for example, Microsoft’s Kinect motion and voice sensor is very popular among video gamers. To analyse a player’s movements, Kinect uses structured lights projecting from a camera onto a grid. Now the technology has to be refined so that a camera can distinguish between fingers and the face when users are much closer to the screen, as they would be when using a notebook, not a TV.

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