Among the “servitization” of all things tech infrastructure at Lenovo Tech World this month, the company announced a smattering of new Windows laptops, Chromebooks, and Android tablets. Its new ThinkPads will be among the first to ship Windows 11, and the new Chromebook follows up Lenovo’s breakout 10″ Duet 2-in-1 by upping the screen size to 13″. While, like the recently announced HP Chromebook 11 X2, it has a Snapdragon processor and a second USB-C connector, it lacks the down-market portable charm of the first Duet but comes in well under the price of the forthcoming HP.
But one feature of Lenovo’s new Android tablets was the most significant from a cross-device standpoint as they will be the first client devices to support Lenovo’s Project Unity. On the surface, the effort seems like an answer to Apple’s Sidecar feature, which allows an iPad to serve as an external display to a Mac. However, unlike Sidecar or other options like Duet that would enable an Android tablet to serve as an external display for a PC or Mac, Unity allows the continued use of Android apps in “second screen” mode because screen extension is done via an app. It’s a useful feature, albeit one that may become less advantageous over time if Microsoft can fully execute on its now-delayed plans to integrate Android apps into Windows 11. While Wi-Fi will be the go-to way to connect the devices at launch, Lenovo says it is exploring other connection means.
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With Unity, secondary screens are paired with a PC via a QR code. (This may remind some of Lenovo’s early work with SHAREit, a local cross-platform file sharing app that the PC maker eventually spun out.) Lenovo hints, though, that Unity is far more ambitious than just extending screens in that it is based on Lenovo’s UDS (users-devices-services) ecosystem. Little has been said publicly about UDS, but Lenovo has confirmed that users will have to be logged into their Lenovo accounts to use Project Unity and that elements of UDS are included in both the Windows and Android apps, enabling Project Unity features. As for why the functionality is limited to Lenovo’s forthcoming tablets, the company explains that it requires at least Android 11 or later from the client-side.
While smartphone heavyweights Samsung and Xiaomi both offer Windows PCs and Android tablets, Project Unity takes advantage of Lenovo’s standing as the only of the “Big Three” PC vendors that crosses that platform divide. Nonetheless, its Lenovo-branded Android business is a small one compared to that of Motorola, which has seen a comeback even as many of its feature phone-era contemporary brands have faded. One may chalk that up in part to Lenovo taking a hands-off approach to the pioneering cellular brand. Indeed, having both Lenovo PCs and Motorola smartphones driving the company’s ThinkReality A3 glasses represents a rare brand crossover.
But Motorola smartphones are so far sitting out Project Unity. Rather, Motorola launched its own cross-device screen outreach feature, dubbed “Ready for.” It includes such features as a DeX-like desktop environment (with distant echoes of the line’s Atrix 4G laptop dock) for external monitors and usage as a more capable webcam for PCs. Lenovo’s PC and phone businesses can justify separating the initiatives names in that the phone features have nothing to do technically with Project Unity. Still, the broad connotation of that name and the hints Lenovo has dropped about its ambitious roadmap make the separation a missed opportunity for now. That said, if, as was shown during a Lenovo Tech World video segment, Project Unity can find relevance in the company’s modest Smart Clock, Motorola could eventually play into Project Unity while preserving “Ready for” as a distinct set of features.
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