Back in December of 2016, Qualcomm and Microsoft announced a partnership to bring Windows to platforms based on the Snapdragon platform. Not Windows RT redux, not Windows mobile, not Windows Mini, full blown Windows with 100% application support and compatibility. It was a surprising and gutsy move after the tepid response (at best) to the ARM-based Windows RT launch several years ago. Qualcomm and Microsoft assure us that this time things are different, thanks to a lot of learning and additional features that make the transition seamless for consumers.
The big reveal for this week is the initial list of partners that Qualcomm has brought on board to build Windows 10 system around the Snapdragon 835 Mobile Platform. ASUS, HP, and Lenovo will offer machines based around that SoC, though details on form factors, time frames, pricing and anything else you WANT to know about it, is under wraps. These are big time names though, leaders in the PC notebook space, and I think their input to the platform is going to be just as valuable as them selling and marketing it. HP is known for enterprise solutions, Lenovo for mass market share, and ASUS for innovative design and integration.
(If you want to see an Android-based representation of performance on a mobile-based Snapdragon 835 processor, check out our launch preview from March.)
Also on the show floor, Qualcomm begins its marketing campaign aimed to show the value that Snapdragon offers to the Windows ecosystem. Today that is exemplified in a form factor difference comparing the circuit board layout of a Snapdragon 835-based notebook and a “typical” competitor machine.
Up top, Qualcomm is showing us the prototype for the Windows 10 Snapdragon 835 Mobile Platform. It has a total area of 50.4 cm2 and just by eyeballing the two images, there is a clear difference in scope. The second image shows only what Qualcomm will call a “competing commercial circuit board” with an area of 98.1 cm2. That is a decrease in PCB space of 48% (advantage Qualcomm) and gives OEMs a lot of flexibility in design that they might not have had otherwise. They can use that space to make machines thinner, lighter, include a larger battery, or simply to innovate outside the scope of what we can imagine today.
(Worth noting, though Qualcomm won’t confirm anything, that competition platform looks clearly like an Intel 6th Generation Core PCB.)
No system prototypes were shown by Qualcomm (or its partners) and we still don’t have an accurate time frame for release. Pricing guidance would also be a big plus, but I imagine Qualcomm is holding much of this information as closely as possible to avoid drawing ire from the gorilla in the room, Intel. Qualcomm must play its cards just right to pull this off, balancing aggressive marketing strategy with a healthy dose of defensive funding.
And maybe more importantly, Qualcomm still needs to prove that this Snapdragon + Windows 10 combination is a good idea. The story is compelling and offers some several valid points to drive consumer interest.
First and foremost, the promise of 100% compatibility needs to be met, as that is essentially what killed Windows RT. The Windows 10 we know and love, with all the productivity and entertainment applications needs to run, even if the performance will vary depending on how the “native vs emulated” status shakes out. Qualcomm posted a video today showcasing Microsoft Office working and streaming video playback, but they need to go well beyond that to get mass consumer and enterprise adoption.
If Qualcomm can quiet those concerns, the Snapdragon’s native cellular connectivity thanks to the integrated X16 LTE modem is a significant advantage that many will overlook. Qualcomm claims carrier network speeds will see a 3x improvement by 2020, with Gigabit LTE making up a good chunk of that. Despite having the sexiness of Gigabit in the name, a true cellular always-on connectivity solution takes away the frustration of Wi-Fi networks that are spotty, require logins, etc. And though many people have hotspots on their phone, saving phone battery and not forcing users into settings and options menus will make these notebooks even more convenient. Yes, the network operator mindsets need to shift slightly to make this a truly amazing experience, but I have reasonable assurances we WILL see that progress well through the rest of the decade.
Another technological advantage Qualcomm Snapdragon can offer to Windows 10 PCs is a smartphone-like connected standby experience. When you unlock your phone, you don’t expect to wait 5-10 seconds for Wi-Fi to connect, and then another block of time to pass as your email syncs, messages update and notifications filter in. Qualcomm’s platforms are built for low-power connected standby and it seems Microsoft will finally make the push to truly enable that capability in Windows 10 around this hardware. Qualcomm claims that its standby capability runs at a 4-5x lower power draw than Intel; that’s a huge advantage to Snapdragon if it holds.
And though I have raised eyebrows as I type it, Qualcomm does believe it can offer as much as 50% better battery life over Intel systems when comparing “typical day” scenarios. I will be the first tell you that without product specifications, performance comparisons, battery size information and a whole lot more, those claims are bold. Assuming that Qualcomm sees direct competition in the fanless space, that puts it up against the likes of the Core m product family – a very power friendly processor platform. Even if part of this story is based around a bigger battery being available on Snapdragon devices, because of the smaller platform PCB, it makes a good case for the benefits of the miniaturization of the architecture.
The stage is now set. Qualcomm has the product (Snapdragon 835 Mobile Platform), the partners (ASUS, HP, Lenovo) and the messaging in place to move into the Windows 10 space. It’s going to be an incredibly difficult fight with a competitor that does not like to lose, but I firmly believe that mobility and connectivity are going to be game changers in ultra-thin-and-light notebooks and tablets from 2018 onward.