What is Intel Unison?  A new way to control your smartphone from a laptop

What is Intel Unison? A new way to control your smartphone from a laptop

Don’t expect it to have an impact until 2023 and beyond, but today Intel decloaked Unison, a technology it developed in concert with an Israeli acquisition, that allows for easy manipulation of your phone from your laptop. The goal of Unison is to enable you to stay “in flow” during your work day while using your smartphone and laptop. (For now, the latter should be a modern-day Intel Evo laptop that supports this technology.)

By allowing you to access and control your smartphone from a laptop, Unison aims to reduce workflow disruptions that constant device switching can cause. If you are trying to focus on working on your laptop, while you tend to phone calls, SMS and app notifications on your mobile device, this can definitely get you distracted. If completely curbing these distractions isn’t an option, incorporating them into your laptop screen can help.

To this end, Unison users can put their phones, connected via Unison to their laptop, to one side, receive and initiate calls and SMS from the laptop, and much more. Now, some of these functions are definitely not new, but what’s great about them on the phone side: they should work with Android And the iOS phones and via a range of possible connection switches. This is what sets it apart from current phone/computer connectivity solutions, such as Windows Phone functionality.


The genesis of harmony

At the core of Unison, technology is brought in from a company called Screenovate. The Israeli company was acquired by Intel in 2021, an innovator in the smartphone display business that has been working on multi-device screen sharing and exchange experiences in various forms. You may have used Screenovate technology and didn’t realize it; Some system OEMs have already adopted their backend technology and renamed it into their own solutions, such as Dell with Dell Mobile Connect App(Opens in a new window) feature (which, by the way, at sunset) and HP’s Phonewise, which was discontinued in 2019.

In the context of integrating the Screenovate architecture into Unison, Intel says a major focus has been on optimizing platform power, along with improvements to the user interface and connection behavior. The power-related efforts ensured that Unison, which runs in the background by nature, would not be a significant battery drain on the host laptop.

Many hybrid workers and remote workers, who are moving from the office to working at home, are now dealing with a mix of devices and communication technologies, navigating in and out of Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth connections, and cellular-only environments. The actual connection nuts and bolts for Unison are complex, as the company promises a seamless experience across WAN, Wi-Fi, cloud, cellular, and Bluetooth connections, all of which should work to connect Unison-compatible computers with either Android or iOS devices.

That’s the key, in that similar technology from the likes of, say, Samsung might be built for only one subset of Android phones, or Dell Mobile Connect only works with certain Dell PCs. Meanwhile, Windows 10’s Your Phone and Windows 11’s Link to Phone features are geared toward Android and offer only a subset of Unison functionality. Here, Unison should cover the wide range of phones on the market, in whatever connection mix you find yourself at the moment.


What does harmony do: first stage

At launch, Intel says Unison will enable four broad categories of phone activity on the computer: calls, SMS, notifications, and photo/file transfer.

The first is to answer or initiate traditional phone calls from your computer, and through your smartphone. This is clear enough. For SMS, users can receive text messages on their phones, make them visible on Unison-enabled computers, and reply to them from there. They can also initiate texts from the Windows desktop to be sent over the phone.

(credit: Intel)

Third, see phone notifications on your laptop, such as installed apps, WhatsApp or Telegram. Leaving all of these sounds at the center of the computer reduces the cognitive burden of moving attention back and forth between devices whenever there’s a chirp or ping. Finally, the technology can enable easier sharing of files and photos between smartphone and laptop, allowing you to view photos, for example, in the Gallery of Unison laptop app.

At the Intel Tech Tour 2022 event in and around Tel Aviv, in mid-September, Screenovate employees demonstrated the technology in a variety of use cases. In one demo, in the midst of creating a presentation on his laptop, a Screenovate actor took a picture with his smartphone, called up the picture on his Evo laptop in the Unison Gallery UI (the phone came with the Unison app pre-installed), and dragged the picture straight into his view Presentation.

Intel Unison demo

(credit: John Borek)

In another scenario, receiving an SMS in the midst of another task, the rep stopped a quick reply from the computer without ever touching his phone. In another example (ordering food online, from a laptop), Unison simplified the two-factor authentication process via SMS (2FA), which included the phone as the authentication device. The 2FA verification code arrived on the test giver’s phone in an SMS; He accessed the SMS from the laptop and – voila – didn’t have to turn on the phone and manually enter the 2FA code on the laptop.

Unison SMS demo

(credit: John Borek)

Also, starting a WhatsApp call was as easy as going to the Notification tab and starting a call. Here, in this canned image provided by Intel, you can see the various tabs running under the left edge of Unison for calls, SMS and the like…

Intel Unison UI

(credit: Intel)

When will we see consistency? Daniel Rogers of Intel, senior director of mobile customer platforms, joked that Unison will launch with a select group of 12th-generation laptops this year, citing partners Acer, HP and Lenovo. The company’s launch date for its 13th-generation mobile chips hasn’t been shared yet, but according to Intel, Intel Unison will be available in more Intel Evo builds powered by a 13th-generation Intel Core in 2023.

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Intel forget

(credit: John Borek)


What makes harmony different?

Now, of course, similar solutions exist in part, in Windows 10 and 11, from phone makers (as mentioned, Samsung is a prime example), or from some PC makers. But Unison is uniquely ambitious in making the same functionality available across both iOS and Android.

Against what exists today, Unison is built on open standard APIs and interfaces, Josh Newman, Intel Vice President and General Manager Mobile Innovation, told PCMag. He points out that Unison’s user interface is also a maker of difference, particularly in the file transfer experience. Much attention was paid to design and intuition; Once synced, the contents of Unison Gallery should be as easy to handle as any other file on your desktop.

Intel Unison Open Ecosystem

(credit: John Borek)

The fact that Intel rolled out Unison first on the Evo is no coincidence, Neumann says, noting that the company wants to get the experience just right, starting with the type of users who might buy an Evo computer: ultra-portable, high-end. Hounds connected to productivity. Deliberate care is taken in implementing aspects like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi stacks, so the experience is seamless. “We want to make it a quality experience,” he notes.

Also, connection flexibility is important but not easy to achieve, as Unison works via wired or wireless technologies. For a smartphone call handled through the Evo laptop, a Bluetooth connection between devices might be preferable, while Wi-Fi would make more sense for file transfers. In some cases, you may want the phone to connect to its cellular network and work with Unison via the cloud, and that’s an option as well. In contrast, other competing solutions, for example, may require the phone and laptop to be on the same Wi-Fi network.

The Unison app itself will be a Windows program, and it comes pre-installed on a small subset of entry-level Evo systems. (It is only supported in Windows 11 22H2 and later.) On the phone side, you will need to pull the Unison app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store. Regarding the phone’s operating system, you will need iOS 15 or later, or Android 9 or later.

In theory, Unison could be implemented as a software download for other devices somewhere down the line; Newman notes that Unison is not intrinsically related to the hardware aspects of the 12th or 13th Gen Core Evo platform. So while Unison may be a limited release technology today, it can spread to other, possibly older devices as kinks spread.

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