How studying people led Intel to make laptops more phone-like


The Lenovo Yoga S740 is one of the laptops certified under Intel's Project Athena.

The Lenovo Yoga S740 is one of the laptops certified under Intel’s Project Athena.

But instead of the long-held thought that phones could make laptops obsolete, laptop design is responding to these expectations; for example, by working on increasing that all important battery life.

At IFA we saw the latest Acer, Asus and Lenovo laptops with Intel’s new 10th generation Core processors, designed to make them perform more like a phone, including quick start-up times, increased responsiveness, and longer battery life.

“Phones have raised the bar,” says Intel’s Dr Melissa Gregg, a social scientist with a doctorate in gender studies.

Rather than letting the engineers take charge of building laptops, Intel and its manufacturing partners decided to look it from a user perspective.

For over a year, Gregg led a team of researchers, “diving deeper into human needs” to see how we use our laptops, what are our motivations, our challenges, and our desires.

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In the past it was all about surfing the internet and checking emails, but now, according to Intel’s research, we’ve also got a multitude of tabs open, we want to lift the laptop lid and be ready for action, and of course we’re far more mobile.

People are increasingly making a living from their laptops, says Gregg. “We are designing for people who are working jobs in environments out of their control, for example in a café.”

These people are live-streaming, making movies, they’re freelancers, digital nomads; they’re all creating content from a variety of places, from home to work, to school, or the local café, and even public transport. They want to set things up quickly, and they clearly want increased battery life as they move around.

“Co-working spaces are not delivering the technical infrastructure, so you’re on your own,” says Gregg.

“Performance, responsiveness and battery life are often the biggest drivers for purchasing a new laptop, and they’re also foundational to a great laptop experience,” she says.

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So laptops with Intel’s new 10th generation chip are, according to Intel, delivering consistent responsiveness on battery, driving real-world performance-based battery life targets, and enabling instant resume in under a second.

Separately, Intel also has a verification process to certify laptops that are “engineered for mobile performance”. Called Project Athena, the standard assures that new thin and light laptop designs hit minimum benchmarks in terms of speed, performance, battery life, graphics, and connectivity, in real life settings. And there’ll be a sticker on the device to prove it.

This is a great idea for people who want to buy a laptop but are bamboozled by so much choice, and struggle with understanding technical specifications. They can now just look at the sticker and worry less about the tech talk.

The first wave of Project Athena certified laptops, from Dell, Lenovo and HP, are hitting store shelves this month.

The author travelled to Berlin as a guest of Intel.

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