IDF 2015 – Making Innovation Personal

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  August 19, 2915

I’m at the annual Intel Developers Forum (IDF15) in San Francisco this week, and while I plan to cover a couple of issues in detail in the next Review, I want to share some thoughts about Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s opening keynote. There have been quite a few surprises here, including the size of the crowd (7,000 registered attendees make this the first sellout in IDF history) and the sheer range of technologies covered in technical sessions and available for viewing on the Expo floor.

But Krzanich’s keynote was also full of surprises, including drone-like glowing, flying orbs and a wireless sensor-controlled troupe of dancing, leg kicking robot spiders that resembled a creepy arachnid version of the Rockettes. Most interesting was Krzanich’s choice of topics, which centered on what he called the Personalization of Computing, a subject that was curiously free of deep-dive tech trappings. As a fellow veteran of many IDFs noted afterward, “That’s the first Intel keynote I’ve ever seen that didn’t mention feeds and speeds.”

Complex manufacturing

Krzanich has been Intel’s CEO since May 2013, having replaced Paul Otellini. Prior to that, Krzanich had served as Intel EVP and COO. He originally joined the company in 1982 and, like past Intel CEOs, held various management positions across the company with a strong focus on the manufacturing organization.

That makes Krzanich a particularly apt leader during Intel’s current phase, where materials science is approaching a collision with Moore’s Law and near-molecular processes are increasingly complex and costly. The company’s frontrunner position in numerous microprocessor markets makes it easy to forget that Intel is a manufacturing leader that has more in common with, say, General Electric and Boeing than it does with many other IT stalwarts.

That’s a good point to remember at IDF where the signature goal is to inform the thousands of developers, OEMs and ODMs that depend on Intel about the approaching technological advances, trends and events that will shape their lives and work. In essence, their success depends on Intel’s ability to deliver the components and tools its partners need to create innovative next-generation products. Those partners attend IDF to catch a glimpse of that future.

Personalizing innovation

Krzanich noted that Intel is focusing on three strategic assumptions:

  1. Sensification
  2. Everything smart and connected
  3. Extension of you

What do these assumptions have to do with personalized computing? In short, the company envisions a future in which innovative compute technologies and functions expands across virtually all areas of individuals’ lives. For example, Krzanich noted that while touch enablement is shifting people and processes rapidly away from clunky traditional mice and keyboards, how users interact with PCs will become increasingly dynamic and “sensified” with audio/video innovations.

He pointed to “Wake on Voice” – a new Intel development that allows users to wake a PC from sleep mode by speaking, which resulted from work the company is doing with Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant. Along similar lines are projects involving Intel’s RealSense 3D camera, ranging from increasingly sophisticated gaming to (in collaboration with Google on its Project Tango effort) enabling robots to effectively navigate around barriers to replacing traditional security passwords with facial recognition.

Intel’s plans to enable an increasingly “smart and connected” world center on Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technologies and initiatives. These include a heightened focus on “maker” projects and culture, including sponsoring “America’s Greatest Makers” – a reality competition that will premiere in 2016 and showcases wearable technology and smart connected consumer device inventors competing for a $1 million prize.

Along that same line, Intel announced a new software platform for its low power Curie module that includes all the hardware, firmware, software and application developer kits (SDK) necessary for creating innovative wearable, consumer and industrial edge solutions. The Fossil Group also previewed three new Intel-based wearable products, including a connected watch running Android Wear that will be available in Q4 of this year.

Final analysis

As CEO Brian Krzanich illustrated in his keynote, the eventual goal of Intel’s efforts and solutions is a world where, rather than being a powerful yet essentially passive mechanism, personal computing will become an increasingly dynamic extension of individual users. Does this make sense for the company competitively or technologically?

Yes, to both. In the former case, the Personalization of Computing resembles past Intel strategies and initiatives that saw the company move significant steps ahead from its previous position and often capture high ground while competitors appeared unaware of changing market geographies. In the latter case, these new efforts bring to mind Intel innovations in wireless connectivity and graphics processing, areas previously dominated by specialty vendors.

By bringing those technologies “inside” of its own core silicon offerings, Intel fundamentally shifted the competitive landscape to the pain of some and the benefit of many others, including its developer partners. This fresh new focus on personalized computing may be the reason for the crowd’s visible enthusiasm at IDF15. Like all vendors, the company faces a variety of often formidable challenges. But unlike many others, Intel doesn’t let those problems undermine or sidetrack its focus on future opportunities.

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