What to expect from PC and Apple makers

Advertisement

Forget the new iPhones, Web3, and augmented reality headsets. The most exciting technology product category in 2022 is the humble laptop.

It was once thought that in a decline in both sales and importance, laptops suddenly came back cool again. It turns out that if you work from home, having a decent, full-featured computer is very important. Although this isn’t a new revelation — worldwide PC shipments are up 34% from 2017, according to International Data Corp. However, laptop makers are finally meeting users’ demands with better hardware and software.

Even if laptop sales haven’t increased at the same rates they’ve been in the past two years, the products themselves are just getting more interesting, thanks to better processors, more innovative designs, and stronger connections to the phone in your pocket. And unlike the blockchain or metaverse, these improvements will have immediate and tangible effects.

New chipset war

Apple’s M-series MacBook processors have revolutionized the laptop market. While the M1-powered MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro have the same designs as their predecessors when they launched in 2020, last year’s 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros got a design overhaul with silicon in mind. This year, Apple will likely bring a similar upgrade to the MacBook Air, its most popular laptop, with rumors hinting at a thinner and lighter design, more colors, and a new M2 processor.

Pat Moorhead, president of Moor Insights and Strategy, believes Apple will also launch a cheaper “SE” laptop in the $800 price range, echoing the sentiment expressed by many other tech experts. (Equally plausible: The company could keep the current M1 MacBook Air at a lower price.)

“That would change the market for a premium design at $799 a day,” Moorhead says.

Apple’s newfound enthusiasm for Macs has left other chip makers scrambling to respond, and the result will be better alternatives to MacBooks, even if they can’t quite match Apple’s silicon.

AMD says laptops based on the Ryzen 6000 chip will offer 24 hours of battery life — a questionable claim derived from low-impact benchmark tests, but that should at least translate to all-day computing in the real world. The company also promises to double the gaming performance over its previous generation chips, allowing laptops with integrated graphics to serve as decent gaming machines. Meanwhile, Intel has boasted that its 12th-generation H-series processors can outperform Apple’s M1 Max, even if they aren’t battery efficient.

Laptop with Ryzen inside [Photo: courtesy of AMD]

The laptop’s revival has also piqued the interest of mobile chip makers such as Qualcomm, whose Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 laptop chips promise an 85% performance boost over the previous generation. MediaTek is also looking to step up the market with its Kompanio 1380 processor, which will debut on the Acer Spin 513 Chromebook.

Carolina Milanesi, President and Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, expects laptops based on new Qualcomm chips to arrive later this year, providing the kind of multi-day battery life and instant wake-up times that weren’t possible with laptops based on Intel or AMD. .

“All those things that make the smartphone experience the smartphone experience will be put into the PC,” Milanesi says.

More mobile links

The fear of a resurgence of Apple laptops may explain why Microsoft and Google are pushing for more integrations linking Windows and Android.

Microsoft is partnering with Amazon to bring Android apps to Windows 11, while Google plans to bring Android games from the Play Store to PCs this year. Google is also working on more ways to connect Android to Windows, like synced text messaging, file sharing, and easier Bluetooth device sync.

Amazon’s Kindle app on Windows 11 [Photo: courtesy of Microsoft]

why now? Morehead notes that in the past, the two companies have tried to build their ecosystems across devices, but with little success. Microsoft’s efforts for mobile phones ended in failure, and the company was never able to engage many developers in creating Windows apps compatible with tablets.

At the same time, Google has struggled to build a vibrant Android tablet app ecosystem, which in turn has hurt the experience of running Android apps on Chromebooks. As Apple deepens the ties between its iOS and macOS platforms, its competitors have no choice but to embrace each other’s open ecosystems.

“I think both companies wanted to have their own successful, closed ecosystems, but they realized they couldn’t be Apple,” Moorhead says. “The next best strategy is to do the exact opposite of what your enemy is doing.”

hardware evolution

Laptop makers are also making more practical improvements to devices that aim to work remotely. Laptops with 1080p webcams will become more and more popular, with Lenovo including a 1.4 µm low-light sensor in the X1 ThinkPad. And while speaker quality was often an afterthought, that is starting to change in response to users’ video conferencing requirements. Milanesi notes that the HP Dragonfly G3, for example, has four speakers with separate speakers and AI-based noise reduction.

ThinkPad Z series [Photo: courtesy of Lenovo]

“With audio, consumers don’t seem to want to pay for it, but you notice it when you don’t have a good experience,” she says. “It’s another area [manufacturers] focus on it.”

Laptop makers are even tackling some of the long-running frustrations that aren’t related to remote work. Dell, Lenovo, and HP have announced laptops with touch trackpads — including Dell’s radically redesigned XPS 13 Plus — that swap out actual clicking mechanisms for simulated ones, similar to the trackpads in Apple’s MacBooks. It’s a welcome turnaround given that even the most demanding of Windows laptops often suffer from heavy clicking mechanisms.

The industry is starting to pay more attention to sustainability as well. Milanesi praised Lenovo’s use of recycled aluminum and vegan leather in its Z Series ThinkPads, and companies like Framework are proving that laptops can be easier to repair and upgrade. (While the major PC makers didn’t announce any major initiatives about reformability at CES, Dell put together a modular laptop concept to show how it’s testing more sustainable designs.)

And of course, laptop makers can’t resist a little spectacle either. During the CES trade show in early January, Asus teased the Zenbook 17 Fold, a 17-inch tablet with a foldable display and an attachable keyboard deck that can transform into a 12-inch laptop. Lenovo also announced the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3, an ultra-wide 17-inch laptop with a tablet-sized screen next to the keyboard for drawing and multitasking.

Zenbook 17 Fold [Photo: courtesy of Asus]

These kinds of high-concept ideas are obviously experimental in nature, but they also offer a glimpse of where laptops might be headed next. Besides, in a year of fierce competition among laptop makers, it’s good to see some of them swinging for the fences. As Moorhead notes, “I think it’s a legitimate desire to find something new and exciting to stick with.”

Advertisement

Leave a Comment