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Qualcomm and the Next Generation of Always Connected PCs

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This has been an interesting initiative driven by Qualcomm and Microsoft. I’m writing this on the latest Qualcomm-based Always Connected PC, the Microsoft Surface X. The Surface X is a game-changing product that had a unique Qualcomm part that was co-designed by Microsoft and Qualcomm. At the Qualcomm Summit in Hawaii this week Qualcomm launched a series of new processors just for PCs with the same high emphasis on battery life and connectivity. The next wave of products will have the advantage of being able to connect to 5G, vastly improving the overall experience, better security, improved performance, and an extended set of new features.

Let’s talk about that this week.

Surface Pro X

Let’s start with the current generation product from Microsoft that I’m using. What makes it very different isn’t just the Qualcomm processor but the ability for Microsoft to own the entire customer experience. They co-designed the process, they own the connectivity experience, and they own the physical design. This allows them to go farther to assure the customer experience than any of the other hardware OEMs. This is critical to their ability to optimize on customer satisfaction and loyalty and brings them arguably closer to the ideal than even Apple has been able to demonstrate.

Unique features include an AI that adjusts your gaze when video conferencing so that it appears you are giving the person on the other end eye contact and a pen solution that assures, you’ll never again lose or have an undercharged pen. The WAN cellular connectivity allows the system to bypass the security problems created by rogue access points and assure the device gets critical software updates timely.

This approach also allows Microsoft to better extend the experience from the client to their Azure back end and, in the expanding Cloud Centric world, it provides the potential for an unprecedented end-to-end mainframe like (in terms of reliability, security, and uptime) user experience.

Next Generation

Qualcomm is using what they have learned from this initial set of products and they are creating a line of processors that range from the 7c entry level and 8c mid-range to the existing 8cx high end solution. At the event Microsoft indicated they would be bringing Project X gaming (this is their Cloud based Xbox experience) to this platform which will be 5G enabled. The 5G performance increase is significant across the board according to Microsoft allowing downloads that currently take 6 minutes to complete in under 10 seconds. This kind of performance should allow connection to low-latency cloud computing resources and provide workstation class performance on these ultra-low powered devices.

In fact, one of the more interesting presentations was using hosted workstation quality engineering applications to stream to these laptops and given the low latency capabilities that 5G promises this could be a game changer anywhere 5G is available. (Currently it is expected that 5G will get to critical mass in most US and Asian city centers by the end of 2020).

Zoom came on stage to talk about how they were going to use this platform to deliver a new unified communications platform. Zoom’s rise in the video conferencing/collaboration space has been impressive and, personally, I’ve found the service to generally be far better than most alternatives. While they didn’t go into detail on the whole “unified communications platform” thing the implication is that your phone and PC will become far more integrated in terms of communication going forward. It is interesting to note that the stuff we were working on at IBM/ROLM back in the 1980s in terms of PC integration still exceeds anything I’ve yet seen in market, but this presentation again raised the promise that the industry might still get there.

Wrapping Up

These Qualcomm based products which focus more aggressively on connectivity and battery life represent a major change in how we build laptop computers placing the Cloud more firmly as the central resource. While Microsoft is leading the current effort with Qualcomm, Google’s Chromebooks are also on a similar path and we are waiting for Amazon to enter. We are at the beginning of this change which should result in the Cloud providers playing a far more aggressive role in terms of the overall solution as the concept of connected terminal blends with the performance centric concept of the PC to eventually evolve into something very different. It’ll be a few years before we full grasp what that really means but clearly Qualcomm and Microsoft are aggressively moving to make a major change that should transform the industry. Let’s see who is left standing and what that is when this all comes to a head in around 3-5 years.

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