The Consumer Electronics Show is the largest convention of its kind in the world. It features technology, gadgets and gizmos of every size and variety, from home robotics to security cameras to laptops. There are a few sectors that receive a strong focus, however, and one of them is mobile.
This year’s CES lacked huge new product announcements, yet there were still several technologies demonstrated that look set to change the mobile landscape over the next few years.
Intel’s Smartphone Reference Design
Intel has been attempting to find a place in smartphones, tablets and other small devices for years. The original Atom was in fact aimed at what the company called MIDS – mobile Internet devices. But it turned out that the original Atom drew more power than other solutions, so it ended up in netbooks. Since then, Intel has struggled in this space, but this CES they introduced something new that could change their fortunes. It’s a reference phone design based off an Intel Atom processor that is fully functional and runs Android x86.
This may not seem like an important event, but it is. Previously, Intel was placing the burden of product design largely on its partners. By developing a reference design, Intel is showing hardware manufacturers how to use its latest Atom processors to develop a competitive phone that can run today’s most popular smartphone OS.
And if that wasn’t enough to prove that Intel is finally able to be serious about entering the smartphone market, the company announced two important long-term partnerships. One is with Lenovo, which has already developed an x86 smartphone and is looking to launch it in China this February. The other is with Motorola, which should be launching x86 phones in the fall of 2012.
If Intel and its partners hit their targets we’ll be seeing ARM and x86 designs side-by-side during CES 2013.
This CES there were no major announcements surrounding Windows 8, but there were a number of important steps made towards launch. Intel showed ultrabooks with Windows 8, Nvidia showed a development platform with Tegra 3 running Windows 8, and Microsoft showed numerous demos of Windows 8 features in action.
It’s clear that the hardware manufacturers are excited about Windows 8. And why shouldn’t they be? The new operating system will begin an inevitable integration between mobile devices and more traditional PCs. Apple has already started down this road, but if Windows 8 is released when expected, Microsoft will easily take the lead.
Intel has already hinted at the innovation that Windows 8 could allow. Their ultrabook press conference included a number of convertible tablet designs. The best, in my opinion, is a laptop with a sliding display hinge that can easily be converted between a normal laptop and a tablet PC. We’ve seen such devices before, but they’ve never had the OS to go with the hardware. That will change by the end of 2012.
Qi Wireless Power
Wireless communications revolutionized technology. Yet when it comes time to power our devices, we have to turn back to old-fashioned cords.
The Wireless Power Consortium is trying to banish the cord forever by putting forward a wireless power standard called Qi Wireless Power. With Qi, it’s possible to charge a phone simply by placing it on a Qi compatible charging station. Such a station could be placed in your car, your nightstand, your desk – or all of the above.
That’s just the start. Currently the standard only calls for charging within an extremely short distance (5mm) but the hope is for that to be expanded. We’ll still probably see distances measure in millimeters, but it could at least be enough to charge a phone by throwing it in a cupholder or dash slot.
Obviously, wireless charging is convenient, but it’s equally important because of what it means for smartphone design. If smartphones didn’t need to have a port for charging, they could do away with ports entirely, relying on Bluetooth and WiFi entirely. This would allow for more design versatility. And if you can easily charge your phone without a cord, the battery won’t need to be as large. This also would increase design versatility.
Qi Wireless is still far from mainstream, but it’s an important step forward. Just like wireless communications, wireless power can’t become common without standards that everyone can agree on. I’m convinced that this technology – be it this standard, or another like it – will become an important part of mobile devices over the next few years.
CES 2012 didn’t include many finished products based off new hardware, but we did see a lot of new platforms that are starting to translate into products and will continue to advance over the coming year. I think CES 2013 will more than make up for any feelings of disappointment surrounding this year’s convention.
Image Credit: PC Perspective