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At IDF, Intel's (Nasdaq: INTC ) Developer Conference, this week it is clear that Intel is preparing for the post-PC era. This doesn't mean they are abandoning PCs. It is quite the contrary; they are announcing one of their most powerful platforms yet. Sandy Bridge is the first processor that puts graphics and the CPU on the same part. However, much of the buzz coming into the show was on their McAfee acquisition, which was designed to give them an advantage in the mobile, automotive, manufacturing, and other embedded spaces, and their Infineon wireless acquisition that gets them into a lot of doors.
The Non-PC Wave
If you haven't noticed that a lot of things are suddenly getting processing capabilities, you haven't been shopping much. From MP3 players to automobiles, computing, and even appliances, computing power is increasingly being built into an increasing array of products and devices. The reason behind this is to more easily add features, to allow the devices to be more easily be updated and to provide for initiatives like Smart Grid so that these things can be remote controlled.
Cars are starting to learn to drive themselves and as they shift to electricity for fuel, the need exists to keep them from all charging at once and turning neighborhood transformers into exploding devices as they are overtaxed and fail. Appliances also need to be better managed so they don't all come on during a time when there is too little power. They will get an ability to automatically trigger features based on the jobs that need to be done, because people clearly don't like reading manuals and have no desire to get an extended education in how to run their stuff.
With the market downturn, the risks of labor (particularly hourly labor) have been made very evident, and manufacturing-based industries are rapidly moving to even more intelligent automated equipment to both reduce this labor risk, related costs, and maintain a higher level of quality by reducing human error.
At the core of all of this is a processor and the potential growth opportunity for these new markets to exceed the PC market's potential by several magnitudes over the next several years. Intel wants a big piece of that. Let's talk about a few of the products they are anticipating.
Clearly, the goal is a car that actually does most of the driving for you, and we already have cars on the market that can actively avoid accidents, park or or keep you in your lane if you dose off. What Intel is demonstrating here this week is technology that would both watch you and the traffic around you and provide alerts if some yo-yo was coming at you from a direction where you weren't looking, or if you were nodding off or doing anything else that would put you into a wall or into the trunk of the car in front of you.
For those of us who have spouses, we already have this feature in the form of driving assistance, but for those who don't, this could provide either added safety or something that is really annoying, depending on how it is implemented.
At the core of this concept is the reality that TVs are increasingly being asked to display web content. Whether it is from YouTube or Hulu, an increasing number of us are turning off our traditional time-based TV programing and moving to Internet-based, on-demand services. You not only need obvious technology to make videos that look good on cell phones and look presentable on larger screens by augmenting them, but you need some intelligence to help you find what you want and, in the case of slow bandwidth, cache it. The future Intel imagines is one where you come to your TV, and the content you don't know about, but are interested in, is ready for your viewing. That will take a while, but the result could be far better than what we currently have with DVRs. However, this can't be done without some form of local intelligence and likely some kind of intelligent Internet service as well.
The iPhone is currently the gold standard. The phone at IDF that the attendees are most showing off is their new iPhone 4. Third party stats indicate that iPhone users are using more of the next generation services, applications, and features of this new class of phones as well providing additional evidence that the iPhone is the one device to beat. But a few years back, the Blackberry was the one to beat. Before that, it was the Treo, and before that, there was a variety of relatively un-smart Motorola phones.
The bar moves and Intel is imagining a future smartphone that has vastly more capabilities, more commonality between vendors and carriers, and is vastly more secure than the current generation. Think of a device that would be more than a phone, a device that could pick the best communication method, could help you manage appointments and contacts automatically, and would serve more of the role of an assistant and less the role of a dumb device. It will be a long time before we get there, but when a product like this arrives, we'll likely wonder how we lived without it.
A Brave New World
Intel is building the foundation, and they aren't the only one, of a brave new world of more intelligent systems, cars, phones, and appliances that increasingly work for us and, in many cases talk to each other, and simplify our lives rather than add complexity to them.
The only problem is most of us could use that future simplification yesterday.
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