IDF: three wireless technologies that will make your life easier

Charge a laptop, connect to a big screen, or dock your computer at work, all without touching a wire

One of the big things to come out of the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, is the prospect of wire-free computers starting from next year. Intel stated that its reference design for the Skylake platform, which is the codename for the 2015 version of the Core processor, will be fully wireless. This means wireless docking, wireless displays, and, most importantly, wireless charging.

Charging without a power brick

Intel hopes that its efforts in the wireless charging arena replicate the effect that the Centrino platform had on the wireless networking market back in 2003. The goal is to have a ubiquitous wireless charging standard so that users anywhere, using any product with a capable receiver, can find wireless charging spots in coffee shops and airports as easy as they can find a wireless networking hotspot.

A board full of LEDs was used to show the size and location of the charging zone.
A board full of LEDs was used to show the size and location of the charging zone.

The first step towards ubiquity started when Intel joined the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) organisation, which pushes the Rezence power transfer technology. Qualcomm and Samsung are also among the long list of members of A4WP. Rezence is based on magnetic resonance, and Intel said it decided to use this standard due to its convenience; it’s a flexible technology that can charge higher power devices. Initially, this technology will be used to charge laptops up to 20W, and the technology can charge through up to 2in of wood, when installed in a table, for example.

This laptop was charging with no wires in sight.
This laptop was charging with no wires in sight.

In terms of efficiency, the charging transmitters are said to have a rating between 50 and 75 per cent, which is typical of other current wireless charging products. While the technology will be built in to Skylake platforms, accessory makers will also have to come up with ways to retro fit charging receivers on existing laptops, tablets, 2-in-1 hybrids, and phones.

If infrastructure partners roll out charging transmitters in their environments for their customers, then we will live in a world in which we could conceivably leave our laptop charger at home all the time, walk into a coffee shop, put our laptop on a table, and have it start charging automatically. This is the dream. As an example, Emirates is already looking to implement this technology in its lounges in order to give its customers a better overall airport experience.

Wireless displays and wireless docking

Wireless Display 5.0 (WiDi) and wireless Gigabit (WiGig) are the two other technologies that will be implemented to usher in the completely wireless era. These two technologies are different, even though WiGig can also be used to connect to a display.

WiDi 5.0 is more for long range display connections, and there will be a WiDi Pro version, which will first make its way into the upcoming 5th generation platforms (codenamed Broadwell), that will be primarily for use in office environments to manage security. WiDi 5.0 supports 4K, and it's supported natively in Windows 8.1, which will make it easier to connect than before (as long as you have WiDi-enabled gear on the other end).

WiGig is a docking technology that can be used to wirelessly connect to displays, storage devices, and other peripherals. It’s a short-range technology that requires line of sight to work, but it’s a very fast technology — Intel states that transfer rates are three times faster than 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Initially, it will be released for corporate devices. Intel sees it as an ideal way to dock a laptop in a no-fuss manner, and also as a technology that can facilitate quick point-to-point file transfers between devices.

While WiDi and WiGig aren't eactly new technologies, together with wireless charging, they form the vision that Intel has for the future of mobile computing. It's not enough for gear to get thinner and lighter, especially if you still have to carry around bulky cables and power adapters. The Skylake platform will be the first to allow you to potentially leave cables behind, at least between the home and office.

The writer travelled to IDF in San Francisco as a guest of Intel.

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Elias Plastiras
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