The critical path to success for the Always Connected PC

The Always Connected PC is a huge joint initiative by both Qualcomm and Microsoft, but often efforts like this are defined by what they don’t do well as opposed to what they do well.

the always connected pc powered by qualcomm snapdragon
Qualcomm

I’m a believer in the concept of the Always Connected PC largely because it fits very well into the way I work. I prefer a desktop system when I’m at home and even build my own systems. But when I’m on the road, I mostly write, browse the web and consume content. The reduction in performance for this platform doesn’t bother me as a result because I need the thing to be light, have long battery life and be something I can be proud of.

This Always Connected PC is a huge joint initiative by both Qualcomm and Microsoft (disclosure, both are clients of the author), but often efforts like this are defined by what they don’t do well as opposed to what they do well. The real promise of the Always Connected PC is its ability to be a true 2-in-1 and not what we have had in this class up till now – good laptops that suck as a tablet. This is potentially the first product that could be a good laptop and a good tablet but, to get there, it needs a couple of things. 

Better Edge or Chrome support

These products will ship with Windows 10 S, with an upgrade option to Windows 10 Pro. Now, Windows 10 S potentially provides a much more Apple-like, locked-down experience. The last machine I got with Windows 10 S, however, didn’t last a day because the Edge browser wouldn’t work well with several of the media sites I frequent. Additionally, a recent problem with Edge is that it isn’t working with printers for some reason, forcing many of us to use Chrome as our default instead to print things like boarding passes or pictures off the web.

I know Chrome support is one of the top reasons that Windows S isn’t more popular. So, they either must find a way to improve Edge (there is some irony here because IE was once the gold standard with browsers) or provide Chrome support. Not having either will offset much of the advantage of Windows S being unusually virus-resistant and stable, because folks will be forced to move to Windows 10 Pro which likely won’t perform nearly as well on this class of device.

Better Amazon reader

As I noted, one of the potential benefits of this new platform is its ability to perform as a tablet…thus allowing us to leave our tablets at home. Currently, the Amazon reader on Windows is down level and not as good as what is available on iOS or Android. The reader in Windows must be closer to what’s available on the other platforms, so that users can use these better blended laptop/tablets as they could be used, and leave their tablets behind.  

Amazon Prime movie downloads

While you can download and watch movies from either Microsoft’s store or Netflix right now, we are still unable to download and watch movies with Amazon Prime. The work has been done to properly protect those movies in Windows (so I’m told), but Amazon has yet to enable this capability. These new PCs should be particularly good for watching movies, but that does you almost no good if you can’t watch them on planes. Getting Amazon to open up this capability would significantly improve the value proposition of this new platform. And Qualcomm’s platform has had a natural advantage over Intel’s in this regard (which is why getting movies on tablets and smartphones has been so much easier on tablets and smartphones until now). 

Enterprise and hardened hardware

Virtually all the products being showcased for this platform appear consumer focused. However, the security, portability and always connected benefits may be stronger for enterprise customers than they are for consumers. Particularly for field types, who currently use hardened products like Panasonic’s Toughbook, WAN connectivity has always been higher than average. So a hardened Always On PC should also sell unusually well…but no hardened or enterprise-level products have yet been showcased.  

Extra credit: Android apps

Since this system uses a Snapdragon ARM processor, Windows 10 is operating under emulation.  This means that applications (mostly games) that tunnel through the operating system and write to hardware will be problematic for some Windows apps.

But Android runs on ARM natively, and if they could provide a native Android support they not only could do things like run the better Amazon reader and Amazon Prime natively – this solving both of those issues – they’d have access to the massive pool of Android tablet applications.

Microsoft could get there two ways, either by licensing from Google or by doing what Amazon did with Kindle and using their own spin on Android. Doing this would create a massive unique advantage over x86 products. Though x86 products do have enough headroom to run a VM running Android, they don’t have the 20+ hours active use and 30-day standby capability that the Snapdragon will provide. 

Wrapping up

The Always Connected PC, to me, is very compelling.  The concept provided days of battery life, it is very thin and light and could be both the most connected and most secure consumer-oriented PC platform in the market once it launches. But, in its best form, it runs Windows 10 S which needs better browser support (enhanced Edge or Chrome), better support for Amazon’s reader and Prime movies, and a wider selection of hardware into enterprise and hardened products. 

Now, if they were able to support Android apps, they’d likely knock sales off the charts and immediately get a better reader, Prime support and Chrome.

I also neglected to mention that there needs to be a strong demand generation effort. This is a different kind of PC and it will face headroom from folks tied closely to x86 who will aggressively disparage it.  Making sure the positive message exceeds the negative ones will likely best define whether it is successful or another Windows RT.

The path to success is clear. The question is whether the players will take it.

 

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