Thursday, 22 February 2018 11:29

ARM-powered, 4G/LTE connected Windows 10 PCs coming to MWC Barcelona – will consumers care?

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With top mobile operators, including Telstra, in major first world countries set to "activate Windows 10 PCs powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon Mobile PC Platform on 4G/LTE Networks", the only question is whether consumers will buy them.

With Microsoft's previous efforts at an ARM-powered Surface RT tablet failing to set the world on fire, partly because that version of Windows was unable to run standard x86, 32-bit software, the company is trying again.

As they say, when you fail, you should try, try and try again, unless you're failing at skydiving, and you should always give 100%, unless you're giving blood.

With Windows RT tablets having fallen from the sky without a parachute, Microsoft is now giving 100% of its blood and sweat to ensure that its Windows 10 and Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM-powered PCs can, this time, succeed, without hopefully too many, if any, tears.

Windows 10 on ARM processors can run x86 32-bit software, with 64-bit compatibility reported to come in the future, and while there are some limitations, including not being able to run x86 drivers, Hyper-V or shell extensions, Microsoft looks to have finally cracked Windows RT's biggest conundrum.

In theory, this means thin-and-light iPad-style designs, with multi-day battery life, always-on connectivity, and compatibility with a stack of popular Windows desktop software, as well as having an iPad-like tablet that you can use a standard mouse with, something iPads still fail to offer power-users who prefer the precision of a traditional pointing device.

Naturally, this leads to other major questions – will consumers care? How much will such tablets cost? What is performance like? How compatible are these tablets with the Windows software you actually want to run? Are they subject to the same malware, ransomware, viruses and trojans that affect regular Windows PCs? Will Intel sue as it suggested it might?

If the price is right, if the battery life claims are real, if software compatibility is good, if there's greater immunity to malware and more, then Microsoft may well have cracked the tablet conundrum with technology that might set the public's imagination alight, causing them to open their hearts, minds and wallets.

That's a lot of ifs, but in a multiverse of infinite possibility, anything is possible, so we'll just have to wait and see.

So, it was with interest that I received and read a media release from Qualcomm and Microsoft on its new tablets.

As you can imagine, those "other major questions" I've listed above aren't answered in the document, which I've largely reprinted below, but the world's tech press will most certainly be answering those questions in record time once review units and general availability to the public has commenced.

The media release notes that both Qualcomm and Microsoft have "announced that the Always Connected PC category continues to grow in momentum as it’s embraced by additional mobile operators from around the world".

"This momentum can bring easy and affordable connectivity plans to consumers on advanced 4G/LTE wireless networks in Asia, Australia, North America and Europe.

"Select operators also plan to stock Always Connected PCs in their retail locations. Three new Windows 10 devices powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile PC platform from OEM brands ASUS, HP and Lenovo plan to utilise mobile operators’ blazing fast 4G/LTE networks, supporting mobile computing virtually anytime, anywhere."

Don McGuire, Qualcomm's vice-president of Global Product Marketing, said: "“Our collaboration together with Microsoft has continued to build momentum for the Always Connected PC category.

“With the growing list of commitments from leading mobile operators worldwide, Snapdragon powered Always Connected PCs are engineered to offer consumers a compelling and powerful mobile computing experience, with instant on capability, always on connectivity* and ‘beyond all-day' battery life in innovative, thin and light designs."

We're told that "always Connected PCs are expected to utilise the blazing fast 4G/LTE speeds on the following leading mobile operator networks".

These operators include:

  • Australia – Telstra
  • China – CMCC (China Mobile Communications Corporation)
  • France – Transatel
  • Germany – Deutsche Telekom
  • Ireland – Cubic
  • Spain – Telefónica
  • Switzerland – Swisscom
  • US – T-Mobile and AT&T

These new operators join those previously announced at CES, which were:

  • China – China Telecom
  • Italy – TIM
  • UK – EE
  • US – Sprint, Verizon

Qualcomm also says in a different media release that, "beginning this calendar quarter, these Always Connected PCs are expected to be available online and hitting store shelves at the following leading retailers":

  • US – Amazon, Microsoft Stores
  • Australia – Microsoft Stores
  • China – JD
  • Italy – Unieuro
  • France – Boulanger, Fnac
  • UK – Asus Stores, BT Shop, John Lewis, Microsoft Stores, PC World

Matt Barlow, corporate vice-president of Windows and Devices at Microsoft, said: "The Always Connected PC combines the connectivity and the simplicity of the smartphone with the power and creative capability of the Windows 10 PC, transforming how we work and play.

“In collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies and with the support of these mobile operators, consumers will be able to enjoy up to gigabit 4G/LTE connectivity and stay connected to the things that are most important to them.”

We're reminded that CES 2018 saw Lenovo announce details of its "new Always Connected PC the Miix 630 2-in-1 detachable featuring the Snapdragon 835 Mobile PC Platform and Windows 10S for a streamlined experience".

We're also told that "this launch builds on the momentum of ASUS and HP, who launched their first Windows on Snapdragon devices — the 2-in-1 convertible ASUS NovaGo and the detachable HP ENVY x2 — during Qualcomm’s second annual Snapdragon Tech Summit last December".

"For more about device availability, consumers should look for specific mobile operator announcements and offers anticipated in the first half of 2018."

So, x86-compatible Windows on ARM is arming itself for battle against Intel-based tablets, iPads and Android tablets, with the world to discover whether customers will swallow these tablets at long last, or not.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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