Intel again promises cool devices with Curie, but will they come?

The devices could help Intel break into wearables after a long struggle

Ever seen voice-activated, fitness-tracking sunglasses? Or musicians creating music with smartwatch-like devices? They were all on show during Intel's keynote at this year's CES.

The devices run on Intel's Curie chip, which the company hopes to put in a wide range of wearables, sports equipment, fabrics, electronics and IoT sensors. Intel also showed a BMX bike and snowboard that had Curie inside, and which could provide real-time information like the height, angle, distance and speed of jumps.

But it was like a repeat of last year, when Intel gave Curie demos and said many products were under development. None went on sale in 2015, but Intel wants to go beyond simply demonstrating the promise of Curie, and an Intel spokeswoman said the company expects devices with the chip to be released starting in the second half this year.

The chips have shipped to device makers, and retailers will set the timeline to ship Curie-based devices. The spokeswoman, however, was confident that by the second half of the year products will start showing up.

The wearables market is still emerging. Intel has spent millions of dollars on R&D and demonstrated many product concepts over the years, but only a handful of wearables available today carry the company's chips. The most recent product introduced was the luxurious Tag Heuer Connected smartwatch, which is priced at US$1,500.

Top Intel executives like CEO Brian Krzanich have been coming to Fashion Week in New York to generate support for the company's technologies for wearables. But Intel's slowness in turning concepts into end products led to a restructuring of the New Devices Group last year, and the fall guy was Mike Bell, who ran the unit. 

Curie offers Intel its first true shot at breaking into the wearables market as earlier chips were considered too power-hungry for small devices. Intel has shown boards like Edison that could be used in smart helmets, robots, drones, wearables and other products, but most of them ended up being used only for demonstrations.

Intel's also tapping into "makers" or do-it-yourselfers to find new ways to use Curie. In partnership with Arduino, the chip maker has just started shipping a $30 development board called Arduino 101 (Genuino 101 in some countries) with the Curie chip, aimed at makers looking to develop new products.

But it remains to be seen whether makers will warm up to the $30 board. Intel has had a problem in the past communicating with makers, and appointed a "Maker Czar" to tackle that issue.

The shipment delay of Curie to makers hasn't helped, and Intel has backed off plans to ship Curie in an inconspicuous button-sized package, which is the way the chip was introduced at CES 2015.

The Curie chip has a low-power Quark chip, Bluetooth and a hub to track activities like steps and health data. It also has pattern-recognition technologies, which need to be programmed.

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