Enterprise to act as vanguard for proximity computing

After chasing consumer-led computing for the past few years, enterprises are due to be the opening front in the next change to computing — an experience that depends on where you are, and which device you are using.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

At the start of this week everything was in a nice, settled place: most peripherals still needed a wire for best performance, saving to the cloud was the state of the art for passing documents between devices, desktop computers never took phone calls on a regular basis, and 2-in-1 convertibles were still a solution looking for a problem.

But pairing the announcements out of Apple's WWDC conference, with those emanating from Computex in Taiwan this week, presents a computing future that suddenly cares a lot more about where devices are, and how close those devices are.

The biggest switch though, is that once again, enterprises and business users will return to the forefront of computing. After spending a number of recent years having users attempt to define the computing landscape, and taking up measures like shadow IT, the new era of proximity-based computing lends itself to favouring the business.

At Computex today, Intel announced that it was declaring war on wires, and that by the time that its Skylake chip arrives, currently slated for 2015, it would arrive with the ability to act in a completely wireless world.

By that stage, Intel expects that mobile desktops will be able to be wirelessly projected to 4K displays, panels that the company announced it would attempt to drive down to US$400; tablets and laptops will be able to charge wirelessly with A4WP; wireless docking is expected to happen with WiGig; as is the wireless transfer of data to replace the usage of USB sticks.

"Our vision is in the next generation Core processor after Broadwell, we'll be on reference designs to eliminate all cables for our ultrabook and 2-in-1 PCs for wireless display, wireless charging, wireless docking, and wireless transfer," said Kirk Skauden, Intel senior vice president and general manager of PC client group.

The wireless technologies demonstrated — wireless display, recharging, and docking — worked in the NFC to Bluetooth range, and show that the presence of other proximity-aware computing devices and peripherals in the immediate environment is due to change the way computers are used in coming years.

While it is one thing to be able to simplify the connectivity between computers and accessories, the sticking point for mobile computing to displace the standard workstation desktop, thus far, has been the performance of mobile devices.

Yesterday's announcement of the Core M chip, which for the first time since hardware manufactures tried to sell people on the idea of a device that could move between the laptop and tablet worlds, gives potential users of 2-in-1 convertibles a chance to actually see the full benefits of the form factor.

The old sacrifice of performance for extended battery life need not be so brutal — Core M is slated to be released with a dock that will blow air over the fanless devices, and allow a boost in chip performance of 30 percent.

A device with an actual Core chip with x cores inside it, although it will never stand up to the power of a proper desktop chip, the mere thought of powering a high resolution desktop is not one that should fill user's hearts with dread.

That said, it's far from a slam dunk — users and enterprises may decide that the implementation of a dockable tablet that powers a workstation desktop is still out of reach and too compromised — but it closes the gap between the computing power of tablets and convertibles, with that found in the lower end of the laptop range.

The surprising test case for this scenario is likely to end up being the recently released Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Although it comes packed at the low end with a Core i3, the device is as close to fanless as the Core platform will get before Core M, and it packs enough of a punch to make docking a reasonable possibility.

As would be expected from a company with Intel's history, its approach to a wireless world of wireless proximity computing derives from hardware. On the other side of the equation, arriving from a viewpoint entrenched in software, is Apple and its new features announced in OS X Yosemite.

The handoff feature, which is expected to allow users of Apple devices to seamlessly transition from device to device and continue on working on the same files, depends on multiple devices being aware of the presence of other Apple devices near them. Similarly, the ability to take a phone call on an iMac, is a feature entirely based on the proximity of an iPhone to a Mac desktop and one that is entirely wireless.

Although Apple did not state that the enterprise would be the setting for OS X to show its proximity features, it makes sense to assume that that is where many of the first benefits will be seen — users spend most of their computing time at work, and Apple users are often BYOD laptop people.

It would be easily to frame this hardware vs software implementations as one framework and methodology against the other, but it just isn't so.

Apple is an Intel customer, therefore at a time and keynote of Cupertino's choosing, the company will be able to benefit from all the work that is set to happen on the hardware-focused side over the coming 24 months.

With what has been shown this week on both sides of the world, Apple users can be very happy with the space they occupy in regards to a wireless proximity-based computing future.

The impetus is actually on the menagerie of vendors and manufacturers involved in the non-Apple ecosystems to agree to standards for wireless protocols before Apple rides off into the distance thanks to its vertical integration.

Whichever way that it all shakes out in the wash, which raises the topic of wearables but that is for another time, the early decision for how far we all go down the road of proximity computing is set to be determine by enterprises, not consumers.

Luckily, we won't need a term like "Enterprisation of consumers" to describe the phenomena, it's just a return to the way things used to be.

Disclosure: Chris Duckett travelled to Computex as a guest of Intel

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