Sunday, July 21, 2024

Qualcomm And Rethinking the PC And Smartphone

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I was at the Qualcomm Technology Summit in Hawaii this week and the advances in performance, connectivity, security, and Extended Reality (XR) got me thinking that we are at an infliction point. We could merge and redesign both the PC and Smartphone into something new that is both more productive and safer. 

This last came to mind right before I started writing, as stories broke that here in the US there were 73K head and neck injuries a year from the smartphone design, which resulted in folks being injured while texting and walking. And this is on top of the thousands of automobile accidents, often deadly, from people doing the same thing while driving.

Let’s talk about how we could clean slate both the PC and the Smartphone and come up with something far safer and far more effective than either device this week.

The PC

The Desktop PC was created in the 1980s and the current clamshell design for the laptop was created in the 1990s, both at a time when processing power was relatively low, there was no Wi-Fi, WAN, AI, or Bluetooth. All that all started showing up one or two decades later and the world, at least with regard to malware, was a far safer place. 

The Smartphone

The current Smartphone design was driven by Apple in the mid-2000s and largely based on the need to blend the iPod with the Smartphone and prevent Apple from losing its dominance in entertainment if someone else merged the two designs.  

The driver wasn’t really communications. The initial iPhones weren’t good at that, but in adding telephone features to the iPod before someone else did making the iPod, and Apple’s related success at the time, redundant. 

It is a much newer design, but the driver was wrong-headed for a device whose primary function was communication and thus the unintended consequence of making the result very unsafe for those using it while walking or driving.

In short, the current PC designs, particularly laptops, are well out of date for the connectivity solutions that surround them, and the current dominant Smartphone design is unsafe and sub-optimal for communication. I should add that the Cloud, 5G, and Wi-Fi 6 are connectivity and performance game changers that alone should have us rethinking these designs. 

The Virtual PC/Smartphone

Qualcomm, at the event, showcased significant advances in their XR2 processor, which potentially makes head mounted displays more viable as a full time alternative to screens on both Smartphones and PCs.

AI and real time Graphics have advanced to the point where you can create realistic avatars and we are on the cusp of making them photorealistic (now they look animated). Haptics being developed for Extended Reality are allowing the creation of virtual interfaces emulating keyboards, and if we are to combine the massive advancements we’ve made from voice to text and text to voice with something like Grammarly and an AI (to address the existing punctuation problem and emojis) you could more seamlessly move between voice and text. 

Blending the performance increases that Qualcomm showcased – with their new 865 and 765 5G parts – with Cloud based resources you have the potential to emulate the functions of a PC and Smartphone.

What I’m thinking of is a blend of:

  • haptic gloves (which could also be designed to reduce the transfer of diseases)
  • Extended Reality tethered glasses (eliminating the screens and providing a heads up display while walking)
  • a wireless headset (for speech to text and text to speech while driving or when you didn’t need the display for texting)
  • a computing battery component you’d place someplace on your body providing both connectivity to remote resources and local processing power

This last would put the powerful radio away from your head where concerns are growing that existing designs may be unhealthy.  

The result would be something that was safer, defaulting to voice while driving and a heads up display while walking (also handy for navigation). This would allow you to place the virtual screen anyplace you wanted it, allowing you to type without a physical keyboard, and allowing you a far richer communication experience. This would be true even if your hands are engaged in something else (for instance if you are working on a project or dealing with bags while traveling). 

This blended design containing instrumentation for our hands, ears, and eyes would not only be adaptable for VR interaction but better address the needs for those that are partially disabled. It could be readily adapted for those that had lost the use of their hands, eyes or ears. 

These folks in particular would be at far less of an advantage because their experiences would be far more similar to those of us that are working around a short term inability due to driving or walking and trying to either reduce distractions or adjusting to a task that was otherwise engaging our hands.

This would not potentially massively reduce the safety hazards connected with current Smartphone designs. But it would make us more productive by allowing us to communicate and create more effectively in a wider variety of use cases.

Wrapping Up

At the Qualcomm Technology Summit, I saw the potential for a very different technology future. By recombining the wireless, performance, Cloud, display, and AI technologies, they showcased what I think we could come up with a blended design. It would combine the functions of both Smartphones and PCs into something far safer, far more productive, and far more able to adjust to our needs than what we now have in the market.  

One of the concepts the industry has been talking about is the Singularity or the seamless blend of human and machine. This could be one of the bridging foundational changes that takes us down the path to that likely eventuality.

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