Intel wants to be technology enabler for wearable industry

Jun 09 2014, 10:04 IST
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The chipmaker has established a new division to explore this “tremendous market opportunity” The chipmaker has established a new division to explore this “tremendous market opportunity”
SummaryThe chipmaker has established a new division to explore this “tremendous market opportunity”

You know something is going to be big when the biggest names in an industry start becoming a part of the trend. Yes, wearables are supposed to be the next big thing in technology and Intel has definitely given its stamp of approval by setting up a New Devices Group to explore this “tremendous market opportunity”.

“It is also recognition of what Intel can bring to this space in terms of IP, unique technologies, unique silicon and we are definitely motivated to be a big catalyst in this market,” Tom Foldesi, senior director of Intel’s New Devices Group, told FE on the sidelines of Computex 2014 in Taipei.

Intel is literally starting with a “clean sheet of paper”, but feels lifestyle brands are going to drive the growth to some extent. So along with people from consumer brands like Apple and Amazon, they have roped in some names from lifestyle brands like Nike and Oakley. “We even took it one step further by bringing anthropologists, behavioural scientists, extreme athletes… even people with military special operations experience,” said Foldesi, adding how the way we consume data is going to change significantly with wearables.

However, Intel is clear that it will not be taking products directly to the market. “We have always been a technology enabler. Our strategy is to make ground-breaking reference designs and make those reference designs available to our customers,” says Foldesi.

But then why has Intel bought San Francisco-based smartwatch maker Basis? “We thought Basis would be a good value addition to our IP portfolio. We think the product is definitely viable in its own right, but through this acquisition we now own all the technology and data analytics underlying this device. We will be able to integrate that to other products we can take to market,” said Foldesi, proudly showing his Basis B1 smartwatch.

But Foldesi says it is too early to take a call on what would be more successful—watches, bands, goggles or shirts? “It is still very early stages. There hasn’t been one single device or usage model that has come out in front. Right now we are enabling a broad set of devices. At CES we showcased smart earbuds, a smart Bluetooth headset and even a smart charging bowl while our CEO recently demoed a smart shirt on stage,” he said, adding that their strategy is that if it computes and connects it will run best on Intel.

“Our long term vision is that the glue between these devices will be the cloud. The cloud is in a way empowering the wearables revolution now,” he said. Foldesi also has a reason why he thinks lifestyle brands will play an important role in this segment. “The closer it is to the body, the more personal it will become and the more people will see it as an expression of who they are.” This is why Intel has gone ahead and announced a number of different collaborations with the fashion industry.

But while there is no doubt as to whether wearables will revolutionise computing, Intel is not looking at it as something that will end the use of either smartphones, tablets or PCs. “I think it is going to be a new compute paradigm. It is too early to tell how the market will progress, but we will see new usage models that are not available now on other devices. Our goal is to provide the tools and give entrepreneurs the ingredients to unleash their productivity.”

Galileo and Edison

Intel has created two different development boards to empower the maker community and hobbyists working on wearable devices. Galileo is primarily targeted at hobbyists and education institutions and has a very simple programming interface to help innovation in this space. Intel is donating 50,000 of these boards to universities worldwide.

Edison, in contrast, is a much smaller form factor but a very powerful solution targeted at the professional maker community and entrepreneurs. To kickstart innovation, Intel has announced a Make It Wearable challenge with a visionary track and a build it track. The 10 finalists will each get a $50,000 grant and significant executive mentoring to get their idea off the block.

The grand prize winner will get $5,00,000.

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