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Windows 8 PCs May Resemble Big Smartphones

Qualcomm execs say the next generation of laptops will feature technologies inspired by the cellular industry
Windows 8 Visual Tour: Microsoft's New Desktop
Windows 8 Visual Tour: Microsoft's New Desktop
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PCs and tablets that run Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 8 operating system will be more like big smartphones than traditional desktops, executives from mobile chipmaker Qualcomm said.

"The notion of instant on, always on, always connected, always updated … that idea is in your smartphone and we're going to increasingly see it in the computing space," said Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs, during a presentation to financial analysts Thursday in New York City.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon mobile chipset already powers a number of Android and Windows Phone devices, but Jacobs believes it could also be a fit for a new breed of laptops that will take advantage of a number of Windows 8 features and capabilities inspired by smartphones.

[ Microsoft's new operating system has a lot of new features. Read Windows 8 Promises Fewer Annoying Restarts. ]

"If you carry your laptop around today you're carrying a life support system," said Jacobs. "Big battery for a screen, a big charger that sometimes weighs more than the device itself. You think about going from that type of experience to the experience of a tablet or maybe an ultra-light laptop … or even a convertible device where the screen snaps off and turns into a tablet."

Jacobs said Qualcomm's plan to enter the market for Windows-powered "non-handset devices" is "probably more fiscal '13 than fiscal '12," meaning the company is most likely to ramp up such efforts in late calendar 2012, when its fiscal 2013 year begins.

Earlier this week, a Nokia executive said his company will have Windows 8 tablets by mid-2012. Last month, the Finnish phone maker introduced its Lumia Windows Phones, which run Qualcomm's Snapdragon chipset.

Jacobs said Windows 8's ability to enter a standby mode in which it's still connected to the cloud means that PCs and laptops running the OS can offer a smartphone-like experience, where users' data from social networks, email, and messaging services are constantly updated even when their device is not in use.

"One of the things that's really cool is that they have this connected standby mode. They've worked really hard to turn off all the components of the system when it goes into standby so the operating system isn't up there sucking down a lot of power and yet it's connected," said Jacobs.

Qualcomm executives also predicted that more laptops would start to offer built-in 3G and 4G cellular connectivity for use in areas where Wi-Fi is not available. They also said that PCs will share common applications with mobile devices thanks to Windows 8's ability to run full-screen, mobile-style apps that respond to touch input. "The ecosystem of the PC and the ecosystem of the phone will merge over time," said Qualcomm president and COO Steve Mollenkopf, who also spoke at Thursday's event.

Such a development would open up significant new markets for Qualcomm. Its forthcoming S4 Snapdragon chip is built on the company's ultra-thin 28 nanometer circuitry with built-in 3G and LTE modem support, making it potentially a good fit for tablet-laptop hybrids. "When the big Windows ecosystem is opened up to ARM that provides a 600 million-unit market that is not available to us today," said Mollenkopf.

In addition to Qualcomm, Microsoft has said it will support ARM-based chips from Nvidia and Texas Instruments on Windows 8. The software maker has yet to announce a formal release date for the OS.