Why Intel's Unite software survived last year's brutal product purge

Intel's Unite collaboration software is breaking away from PC-only product and into the data center, IoT, and virtual reality

At first glance, Intel's Unite software comes across as an anomaly. What future does the collaboration software have in the chipmaker's future?

For now, the software is linked to Intel's PC chips, which is a core business. But it's emerging as a component of the company's virtual reality, internet of things, and server businesses, which are all central to Intel's future growth strategy after a massive restructuring last year.

Unite, which was released in 2015, allows remote and on-site users to log in to meetings and share documents and whiteboards. It works with Macs and Windows PCs as well as iPads and Android tablets, and it supports software like Skype for Business.

At the center of Unite is a hub PC in a meeting room with Intel's vPro chips. The hub PC logs in remote users and facilitates collaboration and communication.

Unite is a free-to-low-cost way to communicate and collaborate, especially when competing conference-room technologies can cost thousands of dollars, said Tom Garrison, Intel's vice president and general manager for business client platforms and its Client Computing Group.

So why would a chipmaker care about conference room software? One reason: It's a big part of workplace transformation, and it will ride a wave business PC upgrades. Research firm Gartner has projected a minor growth in PC shipments in 2018, partly driven by upgrades to sleeker PCs.

Intel last April laid off thousands of employees in an effort to cut its reliance on PCs and focus more on growing areas like data centers and the IoT. Despite its heavy reliance on PCs, Unite survived a brutal purge of low-margin and loss-making products like smartphone chips and wire-free technology.

That's partly because Unite could fit into some of Intel's new areas of focus after restructuring, including IoT, data centers, and virtual reality.

An updated version of Unite will be able to collect telemetry on the number of people in a meeting, the number of presentations in a day, and the average length of presentations. IT departments can use that data to determine productivity at meetings. Other IoT technologies could be used to enhance conference room experiences.

Also, in the future, the software could be possible to determine the names and number of people attending a meeting, which can be logged. Intel is researching cameras that can be used detect faces, and that feature could come to Unite.

Unite could also move tasks like speech translation and pin generation to the server back-end. If two separate meeting rooms in different countries are talking to each other, a real-time translation service on cloud servers could facilitate communication. Real-time translation is one of the many Unite features capabilities that could be moved to servers, Garrison said.

Perhaps the most exciting feature is bringing VR to meeting rooms via Unite. Remote users can put on a VR headset and be virtually present in a meeting room while sitting at home.

"I can participate at a higher level than in the past," Garrison said.

There are many possibilities for VR in a conference room, but there's no specific roadmap yet on when features will be rolled out, Garrison said.

"We have technologies we are working on in the lab," Garrison said.

In the meanwhile, Intel is making incremental updates to Unite. The latest updates include easier ways to moderate meetings and better security features so only authorized personnel can join meetings.

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Agam Shah

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