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Your next laptop could be awesome, and here’s why

It’s clear — and it has been for some time — that the laptop market is changing. Whether it’s pressure from cheap, accessible tablets or the resurgence of custom built desktops, the compromise between power and portability that laptops used to offer is being carved away by competing devices with better specializations.

To reclaim their audience, manufacturers need to integrate new technology into their laptops to ensure that they’re thought of as cutting edge. The lengths that Apple has gone to in redefining its flagship MacBook computer demonstrates that even the biggest brands must roll out new innovations to stay relevant. Here’s the technology that’ll make your next laptop better.

USB Type-C

While USB Type-C has been in the works for some time, it’s only now that we’re seeing the technology begin to be adopted by the mainstream. The broad use of USB connectivity means that any change in the format has to be done carefully so as not to scare off users who have become familiar with the previous version.

However, with the new MacBook set to use a single USB Type-C port for all its physical connectivity, it seems that the handover is now beginning in earnest. And USB Type-C brings with it some very tangible evidence of it superiority over its predecessor.

MacBook USB-C port

The first feature that will blow users away is a solution to a problem that has long plagued USB devices of all kinds. It’s been observed many times that it’s difficult to plug in a USB cable the right way round on a first attempt — some users joke it’s impossible to plug USB in the right way the first time. Thankfully, USB Type-C will allow the port to read a device whichever way up its plugged in, which should save plenty of frustration.

That’s not the only advantage the new standard brings with it. Aside from the expected upgrades to speed and overall performance, there’s also a significant upgrade to the potential power delivery of the USB connection. In the past, such output has only been enough to charge small devices like a smartphone or a tablet. With the new power delivery specification set to be introduced more broadly alongside USB Type-C, even your laptop can be charged via a USB connection. This is the way the new MacBook will be charged, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see other manufacturers follow suit.

While USB Type-C might seem like an iterative advance, the technology could well make a considerable contribution to the future of laptop design. The fact that the ports are smaller means that laptops can be thinner, and the increased power delivery means propritary power ports may be a thing of the past.

IGZO Displays

IGZO is technology that could have far-reaching uses across the tech landscape. First developed in the early 2000s by a research team led by Hideo Hosono, the IGZO compound semiconductor could potentially be the foundation of the next generation of laptop displays.

We asked Mr. Hosono why IGZO presents such an advantage over the amorphous silicon TFTs that are the current standard. His first response was its electron mobility, which he states as being “higher by an order of magnitude” than that of traditional LCD panels. The benefit of this to the user is that transistors and circuits can be made smaller and, as a result, the resolution of the screen can be improved. He also noted the transparency of the compound and its energy saving potential as major factors.

It may well be the latter that proves to set IGZO apart. According to Sharp USA’s documentation on the technology, still images being presented on an IGZO display demonstrate power savings of between 80% and 90% in terms of LCD panel power consumption. What’s more, it can continue to display an image with the power turned off. Early panels based on this technology can already been found in laptops like the Dell XPS 13, which manages excellent battery life despite its bright, high-resolution screen.

IZGO displays could even be transparent, making the the panel invisible when not in use.

IGZO brings together a super-versatile physical construction with major technical advantages compared to current displays. Because of this, it has the potential to redefine the way we think of a display by offering a broader swathe of options for how they are integrated into the physical design of a piece of electronics. Rather than simply being a large black rectangle, designers will be able to integrate them into devices in new and potentially revolutionary ways.

Early concept work for IGZO displays showcase everything from a mirror to a dinner table being fitted with an IGZO display that’s invisible until it’s in use. With such potential being touted outside the realm of traditional computing, it will be very interesting to see how IGZO changes the screens that we’re all quite familiar with.

Wireless Charging

Traditional chargers are a constant annoyance. It’s an extra piece of kit you need with you if you’re taking your laptop out of the house and can’t risk running out of battery. They’re typically device-specific, meaning you can’t just borrow a charger unless it happens to belong to the same model of laptop you use (though USB Type-C may fix that). Worst of all, the fact they’re in constant use means that they can often wear out and have to be replaced, leaving you without your laptop in the meantime.

Rezence Asimov

The Alliance for Wireless Power has developed Rezence, a wireless charging technology that can travel through different materials

Wireless charging is the sort of functionality that might not sound too exciting, but in practice could remedy a lot of the frustrations that wired chargers are responsible for. Placing your laptop on a surface and seeing its battery readout begin to fill up still seems like the realm of science fiction — but there are organizations working towards the goal of it becoming an industry standard.

The Alliance for Wireless Power, more commonly known as A4WP, are one such group. They’re backing technology known as Rezence, and we asked A4WP president Dr. Kamil Grajsky for his thoughts on how it will succeed in bringing wireless charging to the masses in a way that other projects have failed to.

With wireless charging, you could fuel your laptop just by sitting it on your desk.

“The beauty of Rezence is in its flexibility and scalability,” said Dr. Grajsky, referring to the fact that the specification supplies enough wattage to be used in everything from wearables up to a notebook computer. Beyond that, the “spatial freedom” that Rezence allows, in terms of being able to charge your device anywhere in the surrounding area of its charger — even up to a certain distance vertically — is another feature that will certainly be attractive to potential users.

And wireless charging isn’t too far off. Dr. Grajsky stated that the technology is now “mature”, and current development is “mainly focused on the classic cost curve.” The first wave of Rezence certified products are expected to begin shipping in the first half of 2015, so expect to see a lot of progress in this field over the next few years.

Virtual Reality

Considering that its uses up until now have been largely within the sphere of entertainment, it’s of little surprise that we consider VR something used with a desktop gaming PC. Those are the rigs that are powerful to run the latest video games with Oculus Rift support, and an immersive experience is perhaps best enjoyed in the comfort of one’s home.

However, the limits of the world of VR are beginning to change. While products like the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus cater towards gaming first and foremost, Microsoft’s HoloLens seems to suggest that there’s plenty that VR can do beyond entertain. If the primary function of this type of VR use isn’t simply to immerse a player in an experience, perhaps it might have more potential for use with laptops than it was previously considered.

It’s perhaps more appropriate to call HoloLens augmented reality than virtual reality, but the tech goes much further than examples of AR we’ve seen in the past. It’s a method of transposing content that would typically be shown on the screen of your computer to an experience you can move around in and directly interact with. The lines between AR and VR are being blurred.

We could easily see all these technologies brought together as one potentially revolutionary unit.

The early HoloLens model that Microsoft previewed earlier this year was a self-contained wearable device, but for concerns of power and pricing, it would follow that there will eventually be an option to pair the goggles with a separate computer.

Since part of the appeal of HoloLens is that it can transform any environment, it would follow that the device it’s to be paried with is portable. A laptop with HoloLens functionality could be the ideal third pillar alongside a powerful home desktop and a convenient tablet — it offers something wholly different, and completely new.

Tomorrow will soon be today

We could easily see all these technologies brought together as one potentially revolutionary unit. One or two small but powerful USB Type-C ports would give the user plenty of options for connectivity, but also allow the laptop to remain very small — and those ports wouldn’t have to be used as a power source thanks to wireless charging.

Meanwhile, a crystal clear IGZO display would deliver unparalleled resolution while using very little power. However, if that screen doesn’t make things as real as you would like, you could always pair the laptop with a virtual or augmented-reality headset to bring your computing into the room around you. All this technology is waiting in the wings as we speak, and it’ll be coming to your laptop within a few years.