Intel’s ‘Smart Connect‘ function is an optional Ultrabook feature that allows a computer to wake from sleep to connect to a WiFi network and update application data. Intel has been pushing this as a great ability which will help you to “stay current with automatic, no-wait updates to your e-mail, social networks, news, and more”. While that all sounds great, I can’t think of any scenario where it would actually be useful, especially given today’s landscape of applications that run from the cloud anyway. So we’re putting it to the readers, step inside and give us your thoughts on Smart Connect.
Smart Connect works by waking the computer up on a configurable time. Anywhere from a 5 minute to 60 minute interval can be set, the former of course using more battery life than the latter.
One of the biggest flaws with Smart Connect seems to be that it obviously requires a WiFi hotspot to use. Intel specifies in their Smart Connect documentation the following, “Your computer does not update until it recognizes a known Wi-Fi network.” This means that unless you’ve already connected to the network, Smart Connect won’t be able to use it. So on a walk between home and work you won’t get any updates on the way unless you happen to pass by a WiFi network that you’ve previously connected too and you are there long enough for your computer to wake up, connect to the network, and download the data. Even on a 5 minute update interval, I imagine the changes of all of these things happening simultaneously is beyond unlikely — and we’re talking about walking; if you drive to work it’s doubtful that Smart Connect would ever function correctly.
The only way I see Smart Connect even working correctly to update data is once you happen to get to work and you have it set to a 5 minute interval. Then if it takes you a good 15 minutes to get to your desk to get your computer out, it might have connected an updated. Even on a 5 minute interval, the chances of the data actually being fresh are very slim indeed. Even if it updated 2 minutes ago, that won’t be useful because you’ll do a refresh for the very latest anyway. This is assuming you even take a computer to and from work!
All of this is even before we consider the fact that so many of us these days are using applications that exist on the web and don’t need to pull down any data because they exist in the browser. My work is completely in the cloud personally. As I write this, I have one native application open — Spotify — and it has no reason to update itself while my Ultrabook is asleep anyway. The services I use on a daily basis: Facebook, YouTube, Google Reader, WordPress, Google Plus, Twitter — all are in the cloud and would get no benefit from Smart Connect.
For someone using Outlook or some native app for checking social networks I suppose Smart Connect might actually ‘work’, but as I said, it takes just a few seconds to update your data when you actually turn your computer on anyway. I have a very hard time believing that the battery loss from 5 minute interval wake ups would be worth saving a few seconds on something that’s going to refresh as soon as you use it anyway.
All of these points paint a poor picture for practical Smart Connect usage. I suppose this was Intel’s attempt at making Ultrabooks more like always-on devices, but the reality is that they are not, and Smart Connect isn’t a practical remedy.
Metro Apps and Windows 8
The future may hold something different, however. With Windows 8 Metro apps from the Windows Store, it’s quite possible that many people will be moving from cloud-based apps to native apps for compatibility with touch. This would mean more applications that could take advantage of Smart Connect. Still the issue of needing a WiFi network to connect to in order to make use of Smart Connect is hampering. There’s something to be said about having your device freshly updated when you wake up in the morning, but given the impressively low idle power from Ultrabook platforms, it seems that leaving the device on would be a more sensible solution.
Smart Connect might be useful if it could work with mobile data connections like 3G or 4G, but currently it doesn’t seem to support such functionality.
For the readers, please drop us a line in the comments and vote in the poll below. Given the limitations, are there any scenarios where you could see Smart Connect being useful to your workflow or daily routine?