Always On, Always Connected are the Laptops of the Future

on February 11, 2019
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In December of 2017, I attended Qualcomm’s launch of their Always On, Always Connected PC program in Maui. I consider this a landmark event for the PC industry for a couple of reasons.

First, it was the biggest push to add Windows to an ARM-based processor. It had been done before but with minimal support from Microsoft and Qualcomm partners. But at the Qualcomm Maui event, HP, Asus, Acer, Sprint, and Microsoft were there to lend their support for what is loosely called the Windows on Arm platform, and Qualcomm invited close to 300 media and analysts to be at this special launch event.

In Dec 2018, Qualcomm did their second Maui event, this time to push their newest and most powerful mobile processors and to update these media and analysts on their Always On, Always Connected PC initiative. They introduced a new processor called the 8CX, which is their first processor built from the ground up for use on a laptop and is slated to deliver as much as 30 hours of battery life when it ships on new Always On, Always Connected PC’s later this year.

The second reason I consider these two events in Maui landmark events is that I believe it is ushering in the next major innovation in laptops, which is to add the cellular connection to a computer to make it possible to be online instantly no matter where you are, and there is a cellular network available. Although some laptops have had that option in the past and it never took hold, this time around the impact of cellular networks on our business and consumers lives, driven by our smartphones, makes a cellular connection in a laptop more exciting and feasible now.

Nearly all laptops shipped so far have been only WiFi equipped. That means for it to be used online, it needs to have a WIFI connection. WIFI has become more available thanks to places like Starbucks, McDonald’s and many other areas where WIFI has sprung up, but there are way too many instances when a mobile user needs to connect, and WIFI is nowhere to be found.

Smartphones of today have hotspot connections, so a user who has a phone with this capability does have an option to use that cellular hotspot when they are out of an area where WIFI will work. But less than 15% of people use this option according to multiple reports from the carriers about hotspot usage, especially in the US.

There is another interesting data point that bolsters the idea of an Always On, Always Connected PC being the laptop design of the future. We recently did a consumer study and found that people’s use of a smartphone has caused them to want the same type of experience in a laptop. A smartphone is Always On and Alway’s Connected. Consumers told us that they wished that same experience on their laptops. They what to open the laptop lid and it is ready to go and already connected.

While I understood the value of an Always On, Always Connected PC from the start, I held off using one in 2018 given the fact that the first generation of chips and Windows were too underpowered for my liking. But I have had a chance to use the most recent, updated hardware and software for an Always On, Always Connected PC and it is indeed a transformative experience.

In this case, I have been using the new Lenovo Yoga that sports Qualcomm’s 850 mobile processor and the updated version of Windows 10 for Arm processors. Lenovo has done a great job creating a light and powerful laptop that, when you open the lid, the computer is activated and ready to go. And the cellular connection kicks in instantly and is so fast, and you don’t have time to even think about its connection to a cellular network.

Some of my analyst colleagues have been singing the praises of the Always On, Always Connected PC’s transformative nature for some time now. A few of them, who have many laptops to use at their disposal, are now mainly carrying this new Arm Based Always On, Always Connected Yoga too.

I have a found a few quirks with Windows 10 on these laptops though. For example, the symbols that show how much battery life I have left is wrong. Even though it may show I am down to 20% of battery life yet, it turns out that I have another 4-5 hours of power left to work. The Qualcomm 850 extends the life of these laptops even though the battery symbol is inaccurate. Qualcomm told us that this is an issue with Windows 10S, but Microsoft is working on that.

The other quirk is the Yoga ships with Window 10S that is not the full version of Windows. So far I have had minimal problems with 10S, and it runs all of the software programs I use now. Upgrading to Windows 10 Pro would cost $49.00, and if I ever need that bump up in Pro functionality, I could upgrade.

After using an Always On, Always Connected PC for some time, I can see that this idea has a lot of legs and am convinced that it will influence the designs of most laptops over the next five years. Intel has a similar new processor that they have given to their vendors to create a competing Always On, Always Connected PC and the first of these Intel-based products should be out by mid-year.

When my analyst friends told me that using one of these PC’s was transformative, I have to admit that I was somewhat skeptical. I was one the 15% who just used my iPhone’s Hotspot if WiFi was not available. But the ability to open up the Yoga and immediately start using it with no thought of having to take any other steps to be connected does change the user experience for the better, and I expect to see more laptops with better battery life and cellular connections inside in many new laptops soon.