CES, 5G and the shift to the cloud desktop

One of the biggest tech shifts I anticipate concerning productivity software is a shift from the desktop to the cloud. This shift was evident during the Qualcomm and Intel press announcements at CES this year, further confirming that this Consumer Electronics Show is evolving well beyond consumer electronics.

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(Editor's note: Most of the companies mentioned in this post are clients of the author.)

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is arguably the most powerful tech event in North America. Increasingly, it has less to do with consumer electronics – having morphed into areas like healthcare and automobiles.  At the show, you not only get a sense of where technology advancement is now, but where it is going, both by listening to the announcements and by viewing the prototypes of products that may be months or years away – if they ever show up at all. 

At this year’s CES, it was clear that much of what we saw needed cloud service to make it fully functional.  From ever smarter personal robots to health monitoring hardware to entertainment devices that connect to streaming services, the cloud enabled their hybrid use.  Even automobiles were showcased as not only needing to talk to each other and pedestrians (because too many of us walk with our heads in our smartphones), but to the cloud to manage updates, patches, and better security.  Blackberry (yes, they're still around) led with this security-focused automotive effort. 

But it was the resurgence of PCs I found the most interesting.  Not only were there some incredibly fascinating new designs at CES this year, including the use of head-mounted displays, but there was also a clear push to showcase how 5G is going to shift application loads from the device to the cloud.

Lenovo’s Dominance

At this year’s show, Lenovo dominated the PC space with Lenovo executives – and  cutting-edge PCs – at the Qualcomm, AMD and Intel events.  At its event, Qualcomm called Lenovo out as the first 5G PC maker pointing to Lenovo's Qualcomm-based PC that blends the advantages of connectivity and light weight with long battery life.  (Traditionally, the belief was that with light weight, performance and battery life, you could only pick two, not all three.)

At the AMD event, the company's performance-focused laptops were highlighted, one of which even had a cover LED display.  And at the Intel event, the company's  revolutionary ThinkPad Fold X1 folding laptop showcased the first production folding-screen laptop. (Both Dell and Intel had folding-screen prototypes at the event, too.)

Lenovo did a better job making sure its hardware took center stage at all of the opening events I attended.  But it was the Qualcomm event that most stood out in my mind. 

By the way, Lenovo will be bringing NEC laptops to the U.S. this year, and one of them, the NEC LaVie Pro, is a ful-featured laptop that weighs in at 1.85 pounds, or nearly a pound lighter than the MacBook Air. I held it, and it felt like it was an empty prototype; I still can’t get over how light it was.

Qualcomm 5G and Lenovo

As I noted, Lenovo was uniquely identified at the Qualcomm event as the first to have a fully capable 5G laptop as part of “Project Limitless.” I’ve been using Qualcomm Snapdragon-based notebooks on and off for the last several years and while the initial models were underpowered, current models are more than adequate for most productive workers. 

They won’t run CAD, aren’t powerful enough for advanced photo or film editing, and if you want to play a video game, chances are you would be happier with a more powerful PC.  But during the announcement, Qualcomm pointed out that this class of notebook is designed to connect to the cloud where you can run high-powered applications and games using cloud-based hardware in the workstation-class.  These services are on top of Microsoft’s moves to roll out the Azure Virtual Desktop, which  effectively changes your PC into a terminal for normal operations. 

Wrapping up: Everything is moving to the cloud, even your PC

At CES, pretty much everything was connected to some part of the cloud. These connected devices included the new PCs and notebooks with an emphasis on 5G. In addition to Lenovo's efforts, HP was showcased with Intel and its Dragonfly notebook (which I was carrying at the show). The Dragonfly will also be one of the first 5G-connected notebooks. 

The arrival of 5G should begin the shift of applications from the desktop to the cloud, starting with performance applications and then moving to productivity applications, with a timeline that should complete by the end of the decade. 

CES is again showing us the future – and our future will involve shifting application loading from the desktop into the cloud in phases. 

The first phase started this year at CES.  

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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