For the past many years, the annual Computex in Taipei has been a good showcase of how computing is going to progress in the coming years. But this year, like a couple before, has been different. All the talk around computing comes with the mobile prefix as it has become almost impossible to de-hyphenate the two. Taiwan has been the hotbed of innovation in computers for decades, but now the tech giants that call this island home are having to rethink strategies.
For another year, the focus was clearly on how to make computing more mobile and mobile computing more powerful. Being one of the biggest stakeholders in this conversation, Intel once again took the lead by pushing for more mobility and power in computing devices. Its new Core M processor has been developed especially for 2-in-1 devices, what used to be called hybrids or convertibles before. Thanks to their ability to transform into tablets, hybrids have traditionally been underpowered. Intel hopes its new smaller processor will fix this by bringing more power to the thin form factor. So, by the end of the year, you will see more form factors that can twist, turn and tear to make life simpler for the user, but still be powerful enough to do more high-performance tasks than before.
It remains to be seen if this is good enough to make new buyers looks at PCs instead of tablets or large screen smartphones as their first computers in countries like India. International Data Corporation (IDC) says the overall India PC shipments for the first quarter of 2014 stood at 2.03 million units, a year-on-year drop of 25.2% over the corresponding quarter last year. But then interest in tablets too seems to have dried up with the segment recording a 32.8% drop in the same time.
David McCloskey, Intel’s Director of Operations for Asia Pacific & Japan, is however very optimistic. He thinks Intel is in a position to revive both PC and tablet markets. “The Core M processor will drive powerful detachable and fanless models, which will be the culmination of a four-year journey. This is what we set out to achieve in the first place with notebook,” he says. On the other end of the spectrum, he sees tablets powered by Intel’s Baytrail processors being able to bring down price points even while improving performance.
There were some other innovations that could have much more impact for the average user. At Computex 2014, there were multiple wireless charging technologies and products on show. But Intel’s Rezence-equipped table was literally the show-stopper. It can charge multiple compatible devices kept on top, or just within the field, not even touching the surface. The chip maker is joining hands with other top tech companies to set up an Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) which will supersede other standards tried in this field before. Wireless charging surfaces are already becoming a fad in the US and could soon become a standard in public spaces across the world, allowing people to just keep their devices on a table or surface to charge up. Since this Rezence charging can work from behind two inches of wood, we could even be looking at charging walls and tabletops.
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If touch surfaces are all the rage now, the computers coming out in the next few months will perfect voice and motion control. You will now be able to do everything you need to on a computer without actually touching it. Think of such computers in kitchens and shop floors, where your hands might not be in a position to touch a screen or tap a keyboard. They will also become durable and rugged, like the new Fujitsu 2-in-1 which was running from inside a fish tank most of the time it was on demo at Computex. Then a new wave of Apple Mini-like micro-PCs want to take on high-end computing without breaking into a sweat.
But the biggest indicator of the shift in Taiwan was the fact that both Acer and Asus, the big PC names from Taiwan, had given the pride of place at their large display booths to new smartphone models. Both are not known for selling phones, but are making their intentions clear. They seem to know where the future of computing is headed.