A New Wave of Notebook Innovation

Intel have for decades enjoyed near total domination of the Commercial PC market, providing the core components – CPUs and Chipsets to the OEMs and to their credit have continued to innovate. As they add more features and improve the performance of their silicon platforms enabling OEMs to innovate their PC design by making them thinner and lighter, there’s a feeling that this still doesn’t address the ever-increasing User Experience demands.

With the proliferation of consumer devices in the modern workplace (smartwatches, smartphones, tablets etc) there’s a concern that so much choice can both distract and even overwhelm users. The lack of time spent un-interrupted by these ‘skinny’ clients, whilst providing unrivaled connectivity can become a distraction to those who simply need to focus and concentrate on our business tasks. Research suggests that even in the face of so much choice the notebook PC continues to be the main go-to business device. During 2020 it is predicted that the ‘Millennial’ generation will become the dominant demographic group in the workforce. What organisations like Intel therefore need to ensure is that the needs of this generation are being addressed by their future technologies. Unsurprisingly the ‘User Experience’ and usability will play a big part.

User Experience Targets

Based on the User Experience targets above, I think it is safe to say that the notebook PC as a device is not going anywhere, but its usability and the experiences you get from it can be improved upon.

Intel recently released a high-level blueprint of how they and the PC OEMs are looking to deliver these experience improvements to users; its known in the industry as Project Athena.

Project Athena – Laptop Innovation Rooted in Human Understanding

It’s worth noting that Project Athena is a 2-3 year view so it’s not about dropping in a ton of new technologies in one hit, but we are already seeing some encouraging progress.

Project Athena focuses on three main areas – Always Ready, Adaptive and Focus.

CPU chipset efficiencies will continue to drive improvements in battery life but inbuilt AI capabilities will also help with this – The much heralded 5G and WIFI 6 or AX standards once they arrive ‘en masse’ and have greater coverage are expected to not only deliver faster speeds but be much more robust and reliable due to the increases in the available spectrum they operate in. 

The 2-in-1 form factor which is the touchscreen notebook with near 360-degree hinge continues to gain share from the traditional simple clam-shell device as it offers the best user interaction – touch, pen, keyboard. 

AI is going to play a part in improving such areas as voice recognition and enabling ‘Do not disturb’ features to ensure outside distractions are kept to a minimum. Monitoring when there’s a reduction in user interactions will enable the device to intelligently reduce or suspend power-states to those parts of the sub-systems that are not in use. This will result in power saving and improving battery life. 

A more ‘Tablet-like’ experience in a package that delivers enhanced performance is the target with features that include a < 1 sec from lid up to login time, whilst utilising Intel’s next generation mobile CPU core technologies. Persistent memory provided by Intel’s Optane technology also plays a big part in improving performance and decreasing wait times.

Whilst Project Athena maybe a 2-3 year vision its far from being pure ‘vapour-ware’ today. HP Inc has recently announced the first to market Athena v1 commercial product with their Elite Dragonfly notebook.

All notebook PCs that conform to the Project Athena specification will feature the Intel distinguishing label, shown to the right.

The design criteria from Intel to conform to the Athena standard is expected to evolve as the supporting technologies develop. Version 1 is believed to be based roughly on the following target criteria – 

  • Chassis Design – 15mm Z height (allow 17mm this year under right conditions)
  • <1 second from lid up to logon
  • No performance degradation when unplugged from power cord
  • >16 hours of battery in video playback mode
  • >9 hours continuous intensive browser usage
  • 4 hours of battery charged in 30 mins

The Benefits of Project Athena

With the goal of Project Athena being to drive the next wave of innovation into notebook PCs we can expect to realise the following benefits and improvements over traditional Notebook PCs –

  1. Improved productivity and User Experience
  2. Usability – All day battery-life with rapid charging and intelligent use of AI
  3. Connectivity – Provided by Thunderbolt 3, WiFi 6 and 5G 
  4. Performance – Latest CPU and next generation Optane storage
  5. Design – Thinner, lighter designs that feature multiple input methods
  6. User satisfaction – A more responsive ‘without delay’ user experience

What Next ?

The other leading commercial PC OEMs are expected to follow HP Inc’s lead in releasing Athena v1 class devices so I would urge you to take a look at the Dragonfly to judge it for yourself. 

Contact your Computacenter Account Manager to find out ways we can help you understand more about Project Athena.

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