Is Qualcomm’s Connected PC a threat to Intel?

I have been spending a lot of time with clients and people in the industry lately about Qualcomm and Microsoft’s push to create an ARM-based platform for Windows-based laptops. Although these two companies launched a Windows on ARM program four years ago, that initiative failed due to the underpowered ARM processor available at that time and the version of Windows used on these laptops that did not work well on these early ARM based laptops.

The new program launched by Qualcomm and Microsoft in early December is called the Connected PC initiative and uses Qualcomm’s 835 and 845 Snapdragon processors along with a new version of Windows 10S that is optimized for use on these ARM-based laptops. As I have written recently, while the connected portion of this program is interesting, our research shows that actual demand for connectivity in a notebook was #6 on a list of preferred features when we surveyed people who were interested in buying new laptops.

Number #1 on this list was battery life. The good news for Qualcomm and Microsoft is that their Connected PC program also stresses long battery life and Qualcomm expects that laptops using the Snapdragon 835 and 845 will provide at least 22 hours of continuous use. My own belief is that instead of touting Always Connected and Always On as their tagline they should reverse the order and Always On and Always connected alternatively.

I also see this push towards all-day computing to be a potential game-changer for the PC industry and, if done right, could spur new demand for laptop refresh rates that could last at least three years.

While this push for all-day computing looks to be important to Qualcomm and Microsoft, it should be equally important to Intel if the concept of an all-day laptop has the potential to drive a lot of new laptops sales in the future. But here lies the big question. Intel’s PC processors have never really been optimized for long battery life because performance has been at the heart of their CPU mantra. Indeed, as semiconductor mfg processes have gone from 22 nm to Intel’s current 10 nm process, better battery life and more power do happen. But performance has always topped battery life in their strategy.

The processor Intel would be pushing into this all day computing genre most likely will be Lakefield and its future iterations. This is a very important mobile chip for Intel in that while delivering solid performance; its second goal is to deliver longer battery life.
But here lies the billion-dollar question for Intel and the industry. Can Intel compete at the long battery life level with Qualcomm’s 835 and 845 processor that they state can deliver at least 22 hours of continuous use and Qualcomm belief’s that with new chips in the works, could get to well over 30 hours by mid-2019?

Sources I have talked to who have tested the current Lakefield processor say at best it can get perhaps 18-20 hours of continuous use if the conditions are just right. But when I asked these sources if they believe Intel could ever get the kind of battery life like Qualcomm can deliver, they say they doubt it. Of course, Intel would argue that they will still have the edge in performance and might even say that in a real world people plug their laptops in overnight and nobody uses a PC for 22+ hours continually.

While Intel’s argument has merit, their ability to compete in the all-day computing thrust that I believe will jumpstart a new refresh cycle for the PC industry will depend on the answers to these following questions-

1.How much battery life does a user want? Is 18 hours enough, 22 hours enough, etc.?

2-Will Qualcomm’s long life processor has enough power to meet users basic computing needs, i.e., video, web browsing, etc.? Or do they need more processing power to handle advanced graphics, extensive numerical calculations, etc.?

3-Will a 22-30+ hour battery life in a laptop be enough to cause people to want to refresh their older models that in most cases get less than 10 hours of battery life today? Is the prospect of heading off for the day and not thinking about even needing to carry a charging cable appealing enough to get people to start replacing their current laptops in large numbers?

4-How will long-life batteries in laptops influence design?

5-Microsoft’s significant endorsement of Qualcomm’s Windows on ARM speaks volumes about what seems to be a processor-neutral position Microsoft is taking when it comes to CPU support. Intel is where it is today in PCs because of Microsoft. Could Qualcomm ride this support from Microsoft and the Always On, Always Connected initiative to become a serious threat to Intel’s PC future?

These and other critical questions about the future of laptops are part of our research, and as we get answers to these questions, we will report back. My take is that Intel will be challenged by this Microsoft and Qualcomm initiative, and they could see their dominant role as the main CPU suppliers be challenged by Qualcomm shortly.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

One thought on “Is Qualcomm’s Connected PC a threat to Intel?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *