Intel's Backup Plan Is To Push Into Wearables As Well As Hardware

Over the years, I've owned a quite the number of Android-based devices. Over half have been powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor of one sort or another. Of the remainder, it's split between Samsung Exynos and Nvidia processors. I have never owned a mobile device powered by an Intel processor, although I always fancied the Motorola RAZR i, powered by the Intel Atom. I've not sought out devices powered by Qualcomm and as you can imagine, I've owned several Samsung devices too. It's simply been that the products I've been buying haven't had that "Intel Inside" badge on the back. We may speculate as to the reasons why this is, but it is almost certainly down to a blend of compatibility and pricing: early Intel-powered Android devices were not compatible with as many applications as the ARM competition. Intel bringing Atom to the Android platform and squaring up to Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia et al felt a bit like bringing a knife to a gunfight. This situation has eased over the years but for mobile devices, and by this I mean the smartphones and tablets, it's perhaps too late to make much of a dent into the Qualcomms and MediaTeks of the world. For 2015, Intel are abandoning the subsidies that have helped manufacturers put an Intel processor inside their tablets.

Instead, Intel have a new tactic: wearables. Except this is old news because we've known about Intel's serious push into wearables for about a year now and they've been working away on a number of exciting and tiny-form-factor projects, such as the prototype Edison Board, which is a SD-card sized unit that combines a 500 MHz dual core Intel Atom processor, Bluetooth, WiFi, 1 GB of RAM and 4 GB of storage, which will run Android. This is a prototype: expect the finished item to be smaller, faster and use less power. Better yet, when they've introduced a wearable device to the market, it's been with a partnership with a designer. Witness the MICA smart bracelet and our recent article detailing the rumor that they've providing the electronics for a TAG Heuer smartwatch: Intel recognize that they're great at providing the technology but less great at providing the design.

However, not only does Intel make chips and sensors, it also provides data analytics that can act as a go-between the hardware and cloud based systems, which can help manufacturers make our wearable devices smarter and allows for greater interoperability. If we use the goldmining analogy, not only is Intel digging for gold but it's providing the tools for other businesses to dig for gold too. We've seen a number of different carriers and manufacturers release announcements setting out, typically in broad brush strokes, how they're working towards an "internet of things," that is, figuring out how to get these connected devices to talk to one another (and how to make money from it, too). Depending on where we are looking, the estimated market for connected devices is some 50 billion in the next five years. And no, this doesn't mean that we'll all be wearing smartwatches, but the market includes consumer wearable items, medical devices, smart parking terminals, cars and trucks, point of sale systems, windmills, game consoles, home automation systems and the list goes on. It's here that Intel's small, high performance and low-power chips and sensor suits, backed up by data analytics, gives the business a very real chance of playing a big part in shaping the industry.

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About the Author
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David Steele

Senior Staff Writer
I grew up with 8-bit computers and moved into PDAs in my professional life, using a number of devices from early Windows CE clamshells and later. Today, my main devices are a Nexus 5X, a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and a coffee cup.