Intel hopes to replicate successful PC strategy in wearables

Intel doesn't want to

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich during a keynote at Intel Developer Forum 2014

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich during a keynote at Intel Developer Forum 2014

For Intel's CEO, the recipe for success in wearables mirrors a strategy that made it the dominant player in PCs decades ago.

The chip maker is relying on partnerships with wearable device manufacturers, and also wants "makers" -- enthusiasts conceptualizing and building innovative electronics -- to come up with product ideas, said Brian Krzanich, Intel's CEO, during a keynote at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday.

"It's about building these partnerships and platforms," Krzanich said, addressing software and hardware developers in the audience.

"This conference is about you as developers."

Through decades of partnerships with PC makers, Intel has sold billions of chips. The number of Internet-connected devices -- wearables, industrial machines and others -- could touch 50 billion by 2020, representing a big opportunity, Krzanich said.

Intel last year announced the extremely low-power Quark chip, which will be in devices next year, Krzanich said in a separate media gathering. Intel has one wearable offering, the Basis smartwatch, through an earlier acquisition, but the company prefers to be a technology provider to partners making wearables. Intel is developing software and hardware technology for wearables quickly so it's not left behind in the race, unlike in mobile, where the company is still making up for lost time to catch up with rival ARM.

Leading up to IDF, Intel made a number of wearable announcements with partners, including a heart-rate tracking headset with SMS Audio and a smart bracelet with Opening Ceremony. Those devices were shown on stage by Krzanich. Intel last week also announced a deal with wristband and smartwatch maker Fossil Group to jointly develop wearables.

Wearables could be considered an Internet of Things device, a source of data that can collect and push out data for further analysis in the cloud, hubs or data centers, Krzanich said.

"These two areas are married together. They are very interconnected," Krzanich said.

To that effect, Intel announced A-wear, an analytics platform that could collect data from Intel wearables and sent into data centers for analysis. Developers will be able to write wearable and server-side software so the information collected is intelligently processed in the cloud.

Krzanich also reached out to "makers" as new partners, and said that Intel wanted to provide the tools so they could turn ideas into products.

"We can't think of all of the applications and opportunities that are out there," Krzanich said.

Intel has made development boards such as the US$50 Edison and $60 Galileo, through which wearables, robots and smart applications could be developed.

"These are reference designs that we want to find partners and bring to market," Krzanich said. "Something else could be made with the products we make."

Makers may come up with new ideas that could lead to products that could become the next big hit or benefit society, Krzanich said.

Intel also showed a video of famed scientist Stephen Hawking, who spoke about technology helping people with disabilities. Intel helped in the development of a prototype "connected wheelchair," in which sensors can the track health information of a user and the status of a wheelchair.

"I'm Intel inside myself," Hawking said in the video.

The IDF trade show has a different feel this year, and is geared to attract enthusiasts. It is littered with maker zones where Intel and independent developers are showing wearables, gadgets, robots and drones. It's also part of long-term Intel strategy to change its image as it tries to push its chips into more consumer electronics and wearables.

The chip maker will show off more wearables later on Tuesday.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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Agam Shah

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