CES 2023 PCs: The Future of Personal Computing Devices
Cover photo: Samsung’s booth at CES 2023 showing their business computing vision.
Wearables certainly include computing capabilities, primarily passive features driven by sensors. They aren’t designed for creation or collaboration. This post will focus on features of personal computing devices designed to interact creatively with their owners. Five features at CES 2023 stood out.
1. eInk and tactile displays
Tablets traditionally go for heavy-duty glass to help buyers feel secure that the hundreds of dollars spent on the latest tablet experience won’t deteriorate with wear from touches and pen drags, and exposure to the elements. That tough-as-nails glass, however, doesn’t feel like paper, which some find off-putting for taking notes, and even more so for creative work like sketching and painting.
Enter reMarkable a few years ago, more recently Amazon, and now Lenovo with Smart Paper. For people who want to create notes, Smart Paper does just that and little more.
Smart Paper’s hardware is impressive, but it needs to be a part of a total ecosystem. Sure, PDFs can enter, and notes can exit, but it isn’t like Apple’s Notes app that runs across the entirety of Apple’s offerings. For eInk to take off, it would be ideal if Microsoft embraced the technology with a version of OneNote, for instance, that runs on eInk platforms. Most of the eInk devices, including Lenovo’s, runs a modified version of Android. Given Microsoft’s platform defense of Windows against Linux during the NetBook era, perhaps Microsoft will step up with a platform that makes eInk a fully integrated member of the Windows ecosystem.
2. Multiple screens
Lenovo’s Yoga 9i offers a glimpse into a future of multiple screens that also act as input devices or as receptacles for keyboards.
Xebec’s Tri-screen Workstation makes multiple screens available to most laptops by simply hugging the existing monitor with two additional screens and connecting via a USB-C cable.
Multiple monitors improve productivity, and they can often prove lighter than larger displays (and they are less expensive).
These first two ideas find convergence, in a way, in Lenovo’s ThinkBook Plus Twist which places a full color eInk display on the back of the main display. It doesn’t offer two displays that build off one another, but it does offer multiple use cases. For the first time, not only is the display color, but it is fully available to Windows.
Unfortunately, Windows doesn’t know how to perform on eInk, another reason for Microsoft to step up to these emergent use cases. eInk works well for slow activities like reading, but even with my brief exposure to Windows on eInk, I found the refresh unacceptable and the cursor almost impossible to track, even for simple things like using the Windows Start Button, as it moved around and the pop-ups didn’t appear when expected, often not being fully rendered before they disappear.
3. Fewer models (maybe)
I had a conversation with HP. They are trying to reduce the number of models by creating devices aimed at specific use cases. I don’t think Lenovo will be following that path at this point given the number of their new devices. If IT buyers want to reduce the complication and cost of PC procurement, they should consider suggesting smaller catalogs to the vendors they negotiate with.
Unfortunately, consumers don’t have the power to directly engage with product teams, but they do have the ability to buy from companies that have clearer, smaller portfolios. Many people, however, buy based on price, which means many subpar PCs continue to generate revenue as they filter through the channels.
Many of the non-mainstream suppliers, including Samsung, only sell a limited number of devices. It’s the big IT suppliers, including Dell, HP, and Lenovo, who need to reign in the excesses of Michael Dell’s early vision of consumers ordering customized PCs. Back then, PC enthusiasts ordered PCs. Now, everybody orders PCs.
Twenty options for a basic business computer doesn’t do anyone any good. It doesn’t help guide buyers. Narrower portfolios that focus on matching devices to use case is more important than the multiple models and configurations that force buyers to build a computer without really knowing why they are choosing the components they end up selecting.
I would rather see expert systems ask people what they do and recommend a configuration, than have people with no idea about differences between CPUs, the amount of RAM or their likely need for local storage trying to figure out what they need (and not being given the tools to do so).
Short of expert or AI-driven recommendations, Serious Insights would love to see a two-tier strategy with manufacturers offering a clear, audience-based set of devices along with a set of innovative devices that test markets and expand use cases.
4. CES 2023 PCs: Old features are hard to kill
I have never been a fan of IBM’s TrackPoint, a feature inherited by Lenovo when they acquired IBM’s PC portfolio. Thirty years later, the TrackPoint remains prominent in Lenovo’s business-focused laptops, and I’m told it isn’t going anywhere soon. It even inspired a red key on the company’s new ThinkPhone.
Recent designs also bring back the USB-A port as users protest against the lack of support for older peripherals that don’t support USB-C. Those new devices often find the capabilities of their USB-A ports wasted on old hardware. A USB-C hub is the best solution to support older devices, and it helps make the new laptops lighter and less complicated.
5. More integrated software ecosystems
While HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Acer, and others don’t always admit to chasing Apple, they all do. PCs offer several features Apple laptops don’t, but Apple includes those features in other devices. Touch screens don’t come with MacBooks, but they are the primary interface on iPads. Samsung is probably the closest to Apple with integration between its PCs and phones, but their market share of owners buying into the entire Samsung ecosystem makes their impact on the market minimal.
No PC maker can emulate the elegance of Apple’s software integration across platforms. The unified displays between Mac and iPad, the nearly magic push of the cursor through the edge of the screen for universal control, the shared clipboard, and of course, the unity of iCloud for files and data, including passwords, credentials, and images. Microsoft significantly hinders innovation for PC makers because it hasn’t embraced a way to bring similar features to the PC market.
Microsoft’s lack of leadership in this area forces each vendor to create their own versions of integration, which they are starting to do. Several times during the Lenovo briefings, ideas like unified displays and shared clipboards between phones and laptops were mentioned. They work, however, only with certain devices, not across the product suite.
The cover photo for CES 2023 PCs and all photos in this post by Daniel W. Rasmus for Serious Insights.
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