Microsoft and Qualcomm’s New Partnership for Low Cost Laptops

Chromebooks have been selling well, especially in education markets. These stripped-down notebooks basically run web browsers and anything you can do in a web browser can be done on a Chromebook. Education markets value them because they are cheap; some go as low as $179 while others with a few more bells and whistles can go for as much as $299.

While IT departments in schools like them because of price and the IT-related software administration tools, many teachers do not like them as they are too limited when it comes to having kids use them for more than just web browsing and web apps. Google will soon add the Google Play store to Chromebooks, which means they have found a way to run Android apps on Chromebooks and that should give kids and Chromebook users more versatility in what they can do with a Chromebook.

While the sales of Chromebooks are small compared to “normal” laptops, it is a market that has potential. Even some mainstream IT departments have used them as terminals and for other functions inside an IT shop, although their use in business so far has been minimal.

But the low end of the laptop market is an interesting one. Although there is not a lot of money to be made at the low end, it turns out that, with smartphones and tablets becoming the major way people connect, there appears to be a real interest by some consumers — should they buy a laptop if they have a cheaper option available to them? This is where we see consumer interest in Chromebooks and low-cost Windows laptops showing up and, while it may not be a big market, it is a real one that could pick up steam over time.

At WinHec in Shenzhen, China a few weeks ago, Microsoft and Qualcomm announced a new reference design for a 32-bit, Windows-based laptops that uses Qualcomm’s 835 processor and runs a full version of 32-bit Windows 10. While one might be tempted to say this is a rehash of Windows RT, Microsoft has assured their customers this is a newly designed version of Windows 10 that will work seamlessly with all Win 32-bit apps.

While we already see some basic Windows laptops on the market for as low as $299, the processor and features of these systems are at the bottom of the performance barrel. But what makes the Qualcomm/Microsoft spec interesting is that Qualcomm’s 835 processor is one of the most powerful mobile processors and delivers significant performance that, when applied to a low-end laptop, gives these devices more bang for the buck.

If Microsoft has really solved the problem of being able to run a full Windows 32-bit 10 experience and all Win 32 apps on ARM, plus give these low-end systems more powerful speeds and features than either a low-end Intel solution or even an ARM-based processor in a basic Chromebook, laptops using this new spec could be a very promising alternative to those who want a low-end laptop but still want some oomph in their portable computer.

Conceptually, a laptop using this spec could also become a solid alternative to a Chromebook although, at the moment, Microsoft has not stated how a laptop with these specs will be positioned.

Either way, this new spec Qualcomm and Microsoft announced at WinHec needs to be to watched. This could evolve into an interesting new laptop option in 2017 that could garner real interest for those who don’t need a powerful laptop but want something more powerful and with more functionality than a current low-end laptop or perhaps even a Chromebook.

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding. The announcement was just a spec and we have yet to see any actual products based on this to understand its performance capabilities and how Windows 10 works on this Qualcomm processor. But if Microsoft and Qualcomm do deliver a low-cost laptop with good power and that works with all Win 32 bit apps, it could revive the low-cost laptop market in the New Year and give consumers who want a basic PC with more flexibility another good option.

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.

26 thoughts on “Microsoft and Qualcomm’s New Partnership for Low Cost Laptops”

  1. I’ve read that Windows on ARM is done through emulation. Though this approach can conceivable yield “fast enough” it is necessarily slower than native. If it’s vanishingly slower then it might seem okay, but it’s still a kludge. Emulation should IMO be a transient, not full time task.

    1. I suspect that this will be less of an issue than it has been in the past.

      Assuming MS is serious enough, they will make the OS run natively on ARM. They will also make the browser native. We can also assume that MS will provide native MS Office. With both a browser and MS Office, you’ll easily cover >95% of what PCs are normally used for.

      1. Interesting to see, after much talk / speculation of Apple moving their macOS to ARM, MS may be the first to get there with Windows 10.

        1. Yes. What I think the tech world overestimates is the difficulty of the transition. From a technical perspective, transitioning the CPU is no longer difficult, especially for PCs which are most of the time just running JavaScript in a browser anyway.

          The reason why PCs don’t move to ARM is probably more about commercial merits. It simply doesn’t make sense to invest in technology and marketing in order to enter a mature/shrinking market at the low end, where nobody makes significant profits. It simply doesn’t make business sense. Not to say that it won’t happen, but I just want to emphasise that this is not a priority.

          At the people who are recently whining about Apple neglecting Macs should get over it. Apple is simply making a business decision.

          1. Should low end PCs (the only real option) move to ARM, I agree that the race to the bottom (which I see as a benefit, it’s just competition) will quickly make short work out of any initial increased profits. So I tend to agree with you here.

            “At the people who are recently whining about Apple neglecting Macs should get over it. Apple is simply making a business decision.”

            Good for Apple! In this example at least (there are scores of others) Apple’s interests are diametrically misaligned with those of these users and it’s very much their right to scream as loud as they choose.

            If by ‘get over it’ you mean purchase another company’s machine, what about the cost of exit? What about (artificially imposed) lost integration? I know, it’s the user’s problem, Apple is just making a business decision.

            You are, of course correct, it’s these users who are wrong for placing their faith in Apple.

          2. There really isn’t much cost. It isn’t costless, but the big priced software that used to come in either Windows or Mac are usually now sold for either with the same license. that is how it is with my CAD software and other industry specific software I am using. Or it is cross platform solutions like Dropbox, Office365, or Google Apps. It used to be you pretty much had to buy everything all over again.

            I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, it has never been cheaper or easier to switch platforms than today.

            While I will acknowledge there has been whining, I do object to everyone expressing an observation and our own thoughts on those business decisions to be mischaracterized as whining. It s no less a business decision of my own to look beyond Apple if their decisions make their offerings no longer a viable solution.

            I think Apple users and fans have been attacked for so long by Windows and then Android supporters they have mostly become too thin skinned and have totally eradicated the capacity for at least empathy or sympathy if not magnanimity, especially when it is Apple customers who are now pointing out insufficiencies in Apple’s offerings; people who have spent many thousands of dollars on Apple gear for many years, not Windows or Android users who have either not ever used the products or were forced to at work or school. I find myself being pushed from the Apple ecosystem more by the user base than Apple’s decisions. This whole “It isn’t a problem for me so it isn’t really a problem” attitude.

            Maybe the irrational cheerleaders are the ones who should get over it.


          3. Let’s say we’re agreed on the monetary cost of exit… on the Mac.
            There is the cost of lost integration, the inadequacy of desktops and laptops breaking promises of integration with iOS, such as Continuity.

            Why should ANY consumer trust ANY company to that level? Now, along come Homekit and Healthkit to deepen the integration (lock-in). Caveat emptor. Don’t blame Apple if you can’t access your webcams, or open your house, or turn off your lights. You know, they just made a business decision.

            And still this would not be as big an issue if iOS were open access. Others can make non-Apple alternatives to Messages, Continuity, Homekit, Healthkit, etc. so they can better play with other’s. Who will do that in light of App Approval Process? We will never know what level of innovation was lost due to these policies.

            Bottom line, this is a re-establishment of IT control, with IT being Apple for their users.

            What’s wrong with that? You’re 100% correct, those are the individual user’s decisions to make.

          4. I would have loved for HomeKit to have gotten to the point that extricating would be difficult. I kept waiting for the promise of HomeKit to only be disappointed at every turn. This or that works fine, but there is nothing taking advantage of HomeKit that is so central to anyone’s life that moving to a different solution will be all that hard. In reality, changing banks or bank cards is harder.

            It isn’t that big an issue now without what you consider open access. And if the open platforms are any indication, there wasn’t much if any innovation lost.


          5. Of course that’s the beauty of competition. If not Apple’s iOS, then someone else. Apple is not the only solution provider out there. If I’m giving up iOS I don’t really care about HomeKit. So far that I’ve found, there is no Homekit only solution. And if there is, chances are high there is a non-iOS alternative.


          6. So say you dropped $3K in Homekit related stuff in your house, and you wanted to leave iOS, that’s not a barrier to leaving. Wouldn’t it be better from the user’s point of view if that equipment were competed for by multiple OSs as opposed to tied to one?
            I know why Apple would object, but the user?

          7. “So say you dropped $3K in Homekit related stuff in your house, and you wanted to leave iOS, that’s not a barrier to leaving.”
            “You might mind if it required an iOS device to work, and you wanted to leave iOS.”

            One might. But it sounds like jfutral is saying this isn’t the situation most (if any) people would find themselves in. Home hardware products (lightbulbs, lock, thermostats, etc.) generally are compatible with different systems: they would talk to homekit, and they would talk to non-iOS equivalents. Many products and services have iOS, Android and Windows apps. Take your pick on how to control them.

            The beauty (or at least the promise, as jfutral puts it) of home kit is that it hooks together all these different products and apps into one consistent and manageable interface — such as setting up manageable scenarios, so that you can preconfigure a bunch of settings for a bunch of hardware into one scenario.

            You invest $3K into home hardware products if you want an automated home. You invest a bit of time into iOS’ HomeKit if you don’t want to go insane or you want to maximise your hardware investment. You don’t lose your $3K investment when abandoning HomeKit and iOS, you just abandon some degree of efficiency and sanity.

            Regardless of the world market share advantage of Android relative to iOS, it’s simply the case that creators of hardware products for homes would be foolish not to include support for homekit. Even if the creator was iOS first or iOS-only, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t add Android support very quickly if they suddenly woke up and found that Android suddenly provided a much better solution that their end users were suddenly hankering after to keep from abandoning or upgrading their hardware products.

          8. Yeah, Apple users tend to be a little more sensible than you give them credit for. 😉 I think your and Obarts hysteria feed on each other.

          9. Some, just some, and in specific circumstances. Anyone who accepts conforming, even while loosing freedoms long enjoyed does so at their peril.

            Not something I would call sensible. Just remember, I too am an Apple user.

          10. As I thought, you want to heavily restrict the number of Apple users you would consider “sensible”, as well as the circumstances in which you considered that portion of Apple users to be acting sensibly. Therefore, I really can quite safely say that Apple users tend to be a little more sensible than you give them credit for, and I would be quite right.

          11. Maybe, just a little. Even sensible people are allowed to be wrong. Forfeiting should be done with great care, and as I said great peril. And it’s not so much the users, it’s the fans.

          12. One only needs to look at the shareware explosion in PCs. The hardware innovations. Yes, there was a lot was junk and a lot were gems.

            All possible by open access.

            Or the graduate student writing some code and sharing with her peers across the world. Instantly!

          13. Separate response for a separate piece.
            Heaven help us if any non-openly-accessible OS becomes the ‘productivity’ OS of the future. Heaven help Apple if it’s iOS. That level of success will almost certainly have anti-trust repercussions.

          14. “Heaven help us if any non-openly-accessible OS becomes the ‘productivity’ OS of the future.”

            Better start praying because that’s not as far away as you think

            “That level of success will almost certainly have anti-trust repercussions.”

            How so?

          15. Not as close for me. Not yet.
            If as Naofumi said it becomes “the” productivity OS…
            Implies singular.

    2. We have not seen a demo of this but QQ suggests that performance is very good…As I said proof will be in the pudding once we see a product that uses this.

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