The Abysmal Pace of New PC Tech

By Doug Mohney November 22, 2016

While storylines of the death of the PC have been running since the release of the iPad and the wave of tablets, it is clear that style has overtaken substance when it comes to desktop computing.  Microsoft's Surface Studio stands alone with the accompanying Surface Dial as the newest innovation of the year.  And that's before we get to Apple's TV commercials promoting the warmed over MacBook Pro and a lack of newer tech even in Microsoft's Surface line.

While I am enamored with the (overpriced) Surface Studio with a big tilting touchscreen and a floating dial, it's really good for creatives and user-interface wonks. High-speed connection and networking options around for years didn't make it into the latest Surface iterations, specifically USB-C and WiGig.  Microsoft played it conservative, sticking with still valid but still standardized USB 3.0 ports and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

Why not go with the latest and greatest in connections? Cost is clearly a part of the equation, with USB 3.0 more established over C – maybe TOO well established.  Apple's MacBook Pro refresh rolled out in October included USB-C ports on all introduced laptop models, but the media and users started screaming loudly about existing older USB and Apple devices requiring USB-C to legacy device cables, with Apple initially charging a lot of money for adapters.  A week later, Apple was knocking off $10 to $20 off per adapter in response to protests, but hadn't bowed to suggestions that the company perhaps bundle in a couple of cables in with the premium-priced laptops.

USB-C's adapter conundrum might have scared off Microsoft from embracing the newest port standard for its latest hardware, but WiGig adoption has been a slow, uphill battle.  It was only in October of this year that the Wi-Fi Alliance launched an official certification program for 802.11ad, despite years of CES demonstrations and Dell putting WiGig into some of its laptops.   WiGig can provide speeds of up to 8 Gbps in an almost-line-of-site fashion for short distances, meaning you can effectively run 4K video, virtual reality headsets, and file transfers without having to fuss with wires. Working in the 60 GHz range, WiGig enables large data movement without cluttering up existing/legacy through-the-walls Wi-Fi networking that provides speeds from 10s to 100s of Mbps per second.

The lack of widespread WiGig adoption translates to higher product expense to add the new tech, but since both Apple and Microsoft are already charging a premium for their hardware, there should be some way to sneak in an extra $20 on the bill of materials to support WiGig.  Instead, consumers are left waiting for another year or more to get faster connectivity and peripherals.

Adding higher speed ports and networking to new machines is no longer a gold-plate luxury.  Cable and telcos alike are moving to gigabit speeds, shifting the bottleneck of information transfer away from lower speed broadband connections and into devices.  PC manufacturers and service providers alike may want to promote "Gigabit Ready" hardware for businesses and consumers alike, especially when it comes to a video-on-demand hungry generation.

I'm also willing to put money that we may see WiGig and USB-C gain traction more quickly in the TV world faster than conventional PCs, but regardless we'll see what the offerings look like at CES 2017 coming up in January.  The prices of 4K TVs and even UHD 4K TVs have rapidly come down from multiples of thousands of dollars to multiples of hundreds of dollars.  Forward-looking TV manufacturers may have no choice other than to drop in WiGig as a justification to keep some premium and/or product differentiation.  USB-C might be a tougher sell in 2017 thanks to the legacy of the existing USB base, but Apple isn't the only one who can make a couple of bucks from converter cables.




Edited by Alicia Young

Contributing Editor

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