What you need to know
- Intel purchased Screenovate in late 2021 and is now innovating software for a wide release.
- Intel Unison will be launched soon on select Intel Evo laptops and will work with iOS and Android.
- The app extends PC to phone, allowing you to make calls, send SMS, transfer photos, data, and more.
- Intel is committed to working with everyone in the industry (OEMs, operating system developers) to take an open approach to Unison so that consumers can get the best experience possible.
Earlier this year, I wrote an editorial about how the Google Fast Pair initiative was wrong for the industry. The service is designed to bring your Android phone closer to your computer like Microsoft Phone Link, but it will only work on Choose computers with Choose OEM, meaning very few people will experience it (still hasn’t been launched, of course).
Instead, I argued that companies including Intel, Microsoft, and others must start working together to build this functionality on a basic level. Because only then can the software be powerful enough to become a big deal. While Microsoft’s dial-up connection is arguably “the best new feature for Windows in the last decade,” it is also severely limited. It’s a bit slow, especially with app streaming, and doesn’t work at all with Apple’s ubiquitous iPhone.
Good news. Intel is doing something about it with Intel Unison. In late 2021, Intel acquired the Israeli startup Screenovate – the company behind Dell Mobile Connect, which has recently been retired.
Intel has huge plans for this software, and I was privy to its demonstration recently on a trip to Intel, Israel.
Intel Unison: Does Almost Anything
Intel Unison is an application similar to Screenovate (and Dell Mobile Connect) but has been reworked and optimized by Intel. The software connects to your Android or iOS device and lets you do almost anything. It makes phone calls, transmits documents, sends and receives SMS messages, receives notifications and allows you to drag and drop photos into documents, all seamlessly for the user.
You can even use your computer’s keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen to control the experience.
Microsoft phone link works some of this (depending on whether you have a Samsung phone or a Surface Duo) but it’s useless for iPhone users. It’s also not that fast and reliable as it doesn’t use Wi-Fi Direct or specific drivers to get a deeper connection.
Intel Unison is a complete package, and it’s something consumers have been looking for on the Windows PC side, which Apple has been doing for years with iOS and macOS.
I recently talked about the project with Josh Newman, vice president and general manager of Mobile Innovation at Intel, and Ilan Bressler, vice president of CCG and general manager of wireless business at Intel, and learned a lot about what the company is planning for software.
According to Intel, the current ecosystem of connecting a phone to a Windows PC is “highly fragmented” with Microsoft Phone Link, Dell Mobile Connect, and other third-party software offering incomplete or severely limited solutions.
Intel sees it can fix all of this, as not only does it now own the software, but it works directly with laptop manufacturers and is building its own Wi-Fi and Bluetooth solutions. Indeed, Intel optimizes Unison with its hardware to deliver the maximum battery life and reliability that Screenovate did not have direct access to before.
As Newman told me, Intel wants to “improve the quality of the experience” with Unison and “encourage defragmentation” in the industry related to this technology.
Intel Unison: starting with Intel 12th Gen Evo …
The big A question I had for Intel about Unison is availability. Dell Mobile Connect (the predecessor of Intel Unison) was arguably the best mobile solution, but was only available on select Dell-tested XPS systems.
Unfortunately, Intel Unison will start this way as well, but that’s only because Intel is just getting started with this technology and wants to deliver quality.
Intel describes this as the first phase.
However, in the long run, Intel has big plans for Unison.
The application will be launched for the first time on selected 12th generation Intel Evo systems from Acer, HP and Lenovo “this holiday season”. But it has a wider launch thanks to 13th Gen Intel mobile processors and Evo designs later in 2023.
While OEMs will be able to pre-install it on select systems for an off-the-shelf experience, Intel also plans to distribute the application as a direct download. If Intel has checked your system, it should work and be installable.
However, Unison’s goal is not to limit itself to select PC systems, and Intel wants it to be as versatile as possible, to be a de facto mobile solution. He knows that to achieve this goal it cannot be closed, which is why the company describes Unison as “open”.
Intel plans to work with anyone looking to push the project forward, including Microsoft, as this will successfully trump its Phone Link software. Whether Intel and Microsoft will eventually combine the two applications remains to be seen, but Intel rightly believes its solution is best for consumers as it offers so much more.
Working directly with Microsoft could ultimately provide deeper support for Unison if it chooses to do so.
What about AMD and Qualcomm based systems? Intel has not talked to them yet, but it does not rule out cooperation there either. Of course, AMD and Qualcomm have business reasons not to work with Intel on this project. Still, if these companies are interested in the best end-user experience, Intel is open to partnering with them.
Newman tells me that Unison uses “standard APIs” to run it on iOS, so Apple’s direct collaboration here, as is usually questionable, is unnecessary. This is good news for iPhone owners who prefer to work with laptops with Intel processors.
For the first time, iOS will not be a second-class citizen on Windows laptops, undoubtedly much to Apple’s disappointment.
Finally, Newman does not take this challenge lightly, noting that it is “really difficult” to solve and that he will take “steps to get there” for Intel Unison before it becomes as widely available as possible. But if there was ever a way to fix this problem, Intel and its close relationship with Microsoft and PC OEMs are the way to go.
Just as it “owns” Thunderbolt, has the largest share of mobile processors and offers the most popular Wi-Fi and Bluetooth solutions, Intel has invested in seeing Unison as the default mobile connectivity solution for PCs. this. You should too.