A PC Future With No Wires

on August 15, 2014

I recently spent some time with Intel executives who reiterated that their major push in PCs in the next few years would be around 2-in-1s. They believe this is the next major thing in PCs and believe that 2-in-1s will represent 100 million of the 280-300+ million PCs that will ship in 2018.

While this is a very lofty goal and I am not sure they will actually achieve those numbers, there could be a strong case built that, at the very least, many laptops and portables will have touch screens and, via a Yoga-like design, turn themselves into a touch-based screen/tablet. It is the detachable concept many question since, in most cases thus far, they are not great at being tablets or laptops. Nevertheless, Intel and their partners are going full speed ahead in trying to make 2-in-1s the product that revitalizes the PC industry and gets sales of P’s to grow again in the very near future.

But there is another initiative they are working on — focused on getting away from using wires on PCs and laptops altogether, except for one used to charge the laptop or power a desktop. However, they are even working on ways to wirelessly charge more power hungry devices such as laptops in the future. The grand idea is to use wireless technology across the board when it comes to connecting external devices, TVs, storage mediums and of course the cloud. At a granular level, they have either created or acquired all of the technology they need in the way of wireless radios, or are supporting other wireless protocols to make it possible over time to untether the PC from ever having to use cables again.

As one who has a gadget bag with dozens of cables in them to connect all sorts of devices, this is the one initiative I am really hoping will be very successful for Intel and many of the other major industry players such as Qualcomm, AMD and others where these new wireless radios and technologies end up being part of an SOC design. If done right, they would completely change the way we design PCs, laptops, tablets and even smartphones in the future.

Indeed, Apple has already been a major proponent of using wireless as much as possible and emphasized this with the designs of their iPads and iPhones. They specifically did not put a USB connector on the iPad or the iPhone. Their solution was the intelligence they put in their Thunderbolt lightning cables that can be used for charging but also as a medium for use in scenarios where a hard connect to an external item is needed. Apple has been criticized for not having a USB port on their mobile devices but it has not hindered the sales of either the iPhone or iPad.

Since laptops and desktops are used more for productivity and demand more power and more options, additional ports such as ones for HDMI, USB and even for SD cards are still the norm. In fact, there is a new USB standard known as USB C. According to Engadget, “The reversible USB Type-C standard has now been finalized, which should save the world untold man-hours in mis-plugging. Roughly the size of a current micro-USB Type-B connector, it uses matching rows of contacts on the top and bottom so that you can shove it in either way around. Type-C is a version of the 10Gbps USB 3.1 standard (twice as fast as USB 3.0), but slimmed down for compact and mobile devices. It’ll also support the USB Power Delivery spec to carry up to 100 watts, easily enough to power a laptop. Unfortunately, the new connector isn’t compatible with the current USB standard, except via converters. While there are no devices with USB 3.1 yet, it’ll likely be standardized on most future laptops and mobile devices — unlike its pricey rival, Thunderbolt.”

I do believe we will still need ports on at least laptops and desktops for some time and even most mobile devices may still need at least a charging port of some type for a while. However, this move by Intel and many major tech companies to take us away from a wired world is really forward thinking and I believe reflects the future of all levels of computer connectivity.