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Phonelike PCs failed before. Here's why they will succeed now


The new Asus 2-in-1 PC runs on a Qualcomm processor, making it more efficient in power consumption.

Jessica Dolcourt / CNET

Five years ago, Microsoft tried to radically transform the way a Windows computer would work.

The core of this change was the adoption of chips that normally work with smartphones and tablets manufactured by Qualcomm. It marked a dramatic departure from the normal use of Intel and AMD x86 chips, which traditionally served as the brain of a Windows PC.

Windows RT a light version of Windows 8 would allow thinner and lighter computers and tablets. It would help Microsoft and its partners like HP and Dell to better compete with Apple's iPad. And I would enthuse people again with computers.

None of that really happened and Windows RT was bombed. Less than three years after it hit the market, the software ceased to exist.

But Microsoft, along with chip makers Qualcomm and PC like HP, is back for a second try. Together, they created "Always Connected PCs" that work with Qualcomm Snapdragon chips.

The movement occurs as you spend more and more time on your smartphone, and the PC market continues to decline. The answer? Turn your next PC into something more like your phone. For Qualcomm, computers mark a potential new business at a time when Intel has created a 4G LTE radio good enough to power Apple's iPhone. The manufacturers of Microsoft and PC hope that the most durable computers can make you take a second look at their products.

The first two devices, HP 2-in-1 laptops and Asus, promise more than 20 hours of battery life, always-in connectivity and the ability to wake up instantly. And most importantly, they run full Windows and can use normal Windows applications.

"You get everything you expect from Windows plus all these new things," Cristiano Amon, executive vice president in charge of Qualcomm's chip business. he said in an interview on Tuesday at the company's technology conference in Maui. "It completely changes the value proposition of what was the original Windows RT."

If Microsoft, Qualcomm and their PC partners want these new devices to succeed, it's better that that be true.

Windows RT is doomed to the past

Today it is almost impossible to present PCs that run on mobile chips without mentioning, or at least thinking about, Windows RT.

Windows RT, which hit the market in late 2012 as a lightweight alternative to Windows 8. The software immediately struggled and failed to gain traction with users, in part because traditional Windows programs, such as Outlook, would not work at. Windows RT confused consumers, who could not understand the differences between RT and Windows 8 in every rule.

Microsoft also tightly controlled the development process for Windows RT devices, limiting the number of companies chip makers could work with, saying it would make better devices. The company was trying to emulate Apple's model of controlling both software and hardware experience.

But that meant that few products, outside of Microsoft's Surface, came to the market with the software. Microsoft itself overestimated the number of Surface RT units it could sell and had to write down the value of the tablets. One by one, other PC makers and chip makers abandoned Windows RT before Microsoft finally killed the last table with the software in early 2015.

"When you do something that has limited experience , always has to be counteracted by some kind of other great benefit, "said Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Pat Moorhead. The devices with Windows RT were no thinner or lighter than the rivals with x86. At the same time, they were less powerful and executed a limited number of applications.

"In a way, Windows RT was the worst of the two worlds," said Moorhead.

Microsoft and Qualcomm, the world's largest wireless chip maker, were not ready to give up completely, however. The two plans announced a year ago to make Windows 10 run on Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor, the same chip that powers the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2.

This time, they took steps to avoid the problems of the past .

"We all have scars from RT's battle," Miguel Nunes, product manager of Windows operations at Snapdragon of Qualcomm, said in an interview. "None of us could afford another Windows RT."

Second time around

When Microsoft and Qualcomm set out to make Windows 10 run on Snapdragon chips, they knew they could not risk another failure. They had to be more like smartphones, with more compact designs, better battery life, wireless connectivity and always active capabilities. And most importantly, they could not run a reduced version of Windows.

"Microsoft and Qualcomm made the decision that there is no second-class system for Windows," Amon said. "It's just Windows. Period."

HP, Asus and Lenovo joined on board and began manufacturing devices that have Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor and its X16 LTE modem. In the case of HP, its Envy x2 features a 12.3-inch screen and will last up to 20 hours on a single charge and up to approximately 30 days in "modern standby mode". The device will have up to 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage when it launches in the spring. Prices are not available yet

The Asus NovaGo has a Full HD display with 13.3-inch LED backlight, it can run 22 hours of video and can remain in standby mode for 30 days. It will start at $ 599 for 4 gigabytes of RAM and 64 GB of storage. The $ 799 model will have 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage.

Lenovo will unveil its device at CES in January.

"This is a complete PC and was fundamentally transformed in the way I work," said Terry Meyerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Windows and device group, at Qualcomm's technology summit on Tuesday. He noted that the PC he has been using needs to be loaded only once a week. He wakes up immediately and always has a connection when he needs it.

What is different this time goes beyond the devices themselves, said Amon. Mobile processors have become more powerful and people have become more comfortable with cloud computing, accessing data through the Internet instead of storing it on the device. Think of Google Docs or Photos stored in iCloud.

"Expectations are now being defined by smartphones," Amon said. "Those are significant changes from where we started."

Trading off

New PCs powered by Snapdragon may be attractive to some buyers, but they also have some drawbacks. They are mainly aimed at people who want to search the web, access social networks, check email or consume content such as videos. They will not work well for photo editing or intensive games.

Qualcomm has been pushing for more and more devices to come with integrated wireless connections. No more waiting for Wi-Fi when your tablet has LTE. But that means another cellular plan, something that consumers have not been claiming.

In a study of Creative Strategies, approximately half of the iPad users surveyed opted for the most economical version of LTE from the Apple tablet. Only 49 percent of those people actually activated LTE on the tablet. (For those of you who hate math, that means that only a quarter of people use LTE on their tablets).

For those who installed LTE on their iPads, "it was mostly about reassurance," said Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi.

It is common for cell phones to be equipped with mobile hotspots that allow you to share Wi-Fi with your other devices. That makes having a modem inside your computer or tablet less important. If having connectivity on a PC becomes vital, Intel is likely to put its own 4G LTE chips on computers.

And although Microsoft and Qualcomm trumpet the ability of devices to use "full Windows", that comes with some caveats.

The version of Windows running on the devices is 10 S, which is a more blocked experience. The software only runs applications downloaded from the Microsoft Windows Store. And although the devices powered by Snapdragon can run traditional Windows applications, it is through a process called emulation, which can delay the machines in some cases.

The argument of Microsoft, Qualcomm and PC makers is that Windows 10 S is more secure. Microsoft has approved all applications in the Windows Store, making malware and other problems less likely.

It will now be up to consumers to decide whether a PC with a smartphone is what they want.

"The question is whether [these devices] are better enough to justify possible concerns," said Technalysis Research analyst Bob O & # 39; Donnell. "The concessions are much more interesting this time than with RT."

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