Qualcomm and Microsoft announced that the first wave of Always Connected PCs will arrive soon, but this new category of device isn’t exclusive to Qualcomm. Intel previously announced its own take on the concept, and AMD has plans for it, too.
However, the nomenclature for these devices hasn’t been standardized for consumers very well. For example, Qualcomm’s announcement combines and conflates the always-connected concept and Windows 10 on Arm. Qualcomm-powered devices might be the first Always Connected PCs to hit the market, but Intel- and possibly AMD-powered ones will come, too.
So what is an Always Connected PC? The term actually belongs to Microsoft--or at least, that’s where it originated. However, it’s interesting to note that it’s not trademarked, so anywhere you see “Always Connected PC” (capitalized), that’s not a proprietary term.
With that in mind, this is what Microsoft considers an “always connected PC” (capitalized or not):
At its core, we believe that the Always Connected PC embraces four key areas: •Always Connected – seamlessly switch between LTE and Wifi•Great battery life – enjoy 13 to 20+ hours of battery life and up 20 days of standby power depending on the device you choose•The Windows features you love – Start menu, touch, ink, voice, and great applications from Office and Paint 3D to Minecraft•All on thin, light, powerful modern devices – from Lenovo, Asus, Surface and moreOur goal has always been to build a great category of Windows 10 Always Connected PCs that help our customers achieve more. We are working closely with a number of device and silicon partners to bring a whole range of Always Connected PCs to market that will embrace different features like battery life, instant-on connectivity and performance, depending on the needs of the customer.
Even though the term, practically speaking, seems to be heavily associated with Qualcomm and Microsoft’s partnership on Qualcomm-powered PCs (more on that later), it doesn’t imply anything about what processing platform powers the device.
The Qualcomm 835 SoC has 4G/LTE technology built in thanks to their integrated modems, so Qualcomm-powered PCs are (wait for it) always connected. Intel debuted its own Always Connected PCs at CES 2018. These devices run on Intel Core CPUs, but they have Intel’s discrete XMM modem on board to provide LTE connectivity.
It’s worth noting that one of the devices in Qualcomm’s announcement, the HP Envy x2, has an Intel-powered version--so even though Qualcomm proudly heralded its “Always Connected PCs,” and seems to have worked hard to keep that term synonymous with “Qualcomm,” Intel has at least one “Always Connected” design in the mix, too, with the same model name as its Qualcomm “Always Connected” counterpart.
To be fair, the “always connected” term has been used by Qualcomm since Windows 10 on Arm was announced at Computex in mid 2017. (Intel couldn’t let that slide and had to remind everyone that it made LTE modems, too. At the time, Intel used the term “Always On” instead of “Always Connected,” but it seems to have copped to the latter term now.) Not to be outdone, AMD followed up late last year by announcing that it was licensing Qualcomm’s LTE modem technology to enable AMD-powered Always Connected PCs, as well.
Therefore, although there are just a few “Always Connected PCs” out there so far, certainly more are coming. And under that branding, there are or will be laptops running on Qualcomm SoCs with Qualcomm-designed modems, Intel CPUs with Intel-designed modems, and AMD CPUs with Qualcomm-designed modems.
Unlike when Intel coined the term “Ultrabook,” which at least is a distinct word not already used in the English language, Microsoft is going to have a hard time getting “Always Connected PC” into the public lexicon. Because it’s not a tightly defined class of PC--in other words, the term invokes rather vague parameters--it doesn’t tell consumers all that much about what they’re buying.
For example, note that in Microsoft’s definition the OS is just “the Windows features you love”; but the end user experience will be substantially affected by which version of Windows 10 you’ll get, which varies between the Qualcomm and Intel/AMD platforms.)
Things on the “Always Connected” front are are just heating up, though. Intel couldn’t let the announcement of the imminent arrival of Qualcomm’s LTE-enabled PCs steal all the thunder, so it announced that it’s developing a 5G modem for even more-connected PCs. It sounds like Intel just wants to be the first on the stage, though, because devices with the new modem aren’t expected to come before mid-2019. Qualcomm is also of course working on 5G, and there are rumors that an SoC with it could appear in another generation of Qualcomm-powered PCs in 2018.
Qualcomm is to phones what Intel is to PCs, so the mobile PC market might become the next battleground for these two titans of different strengths. It wouldn’t be the first time the two have crossed swords, either. Of course, if Windows 10 on Arm doesn’t deliver, the battle might be over before it starts.