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Focusing on the big picture

Posted: 11.21.13

As the players jockey for position, they look for territory to claim

When you’ve been all over the place, it gets kind of hard to concentrate. The fragmenting digital market is just a huge challenge for companies to keep up with, and as a result, small companies have to make hard choices before their aspirations outstrip their budgets and big companies have to keep making a lot of money to fund all the opportunity coming their way … and then they have to make hard choices.

Ever since AMD started coming out of its shell last summer, the company has been very open in communicating its goals and plans for the future. For a while there it seemed the company was stuck in turtle mode and would only poke its head out during quarterly report times. Now, after the company’s developer summit, APU 13, has come to an end, we’re sorting through too much information. It’s a welcome problem.

Meanwhile, Nvidia has never had a problem communicating its plans and products, but when we caught up to them in Israel for their pitch to Israeli developers, we got a chance to get a streamlined glimpse of some of the areas where the company is putting its energies these days.

Both AMD and Nvidia, not to mention Intel and the entire PC industry, are struggling to negotiate the shifts happening in the personal computing industry. As people adopt a variety of devices to do things that they used to do chained to a PC—which, when you think about it, are most of the basic tasks we do every day: emailing, surfing the web—it seems we really have been wasting the PC’s resources. And as the technology companies look beyond the basics and traditional platform, they’re finding some pretty fun stuff to do.

The cloud looms large in everyone’s plans; it will be the place where much of computing goes for most people. It can scale, giving people the compute power they need according to the tasks they’re doing and charge them accordingly— supercomputing for the price of a cable subscription.

AMD has not abandoned its interests in servers, but where it once went overboard on the topic, it has now balanced its plans for developing processors for servers while developing for other platforms including consoles, tablets, and specialized devices. They’re kind of excited about the Internet of Things, too.

Nvidia too has put considerable focused effort into the cloud, and we’re seeing it pay off in the important Amazon deal announced this month and covered in this issue. And, thanks to its brave addition of ARM-based tablets earlier in the game, Nvidia has the lead in Android and mobile devices among the big three PC semi companies. So far, if we were going to highlight the differences in the companies’ strategy, we’d talk about the work AMD has put into collaborating with partners, which helps it find the right battles to fight and taps into broader industry wisdom for the trends that are likely to win out. Nvidia is much more about building technology, putting it together in irresistible packages of APIs, platforms, and templates so that partners can’t help themselves but join up, especially those small companies who need to pick the right fights and have limited engineering resources.

So, the way we see it, the arch competitors have carved out spaces for themselves in the cloud and in devices, and they’ll continue to scrap like hell in the middle of the PC market until no one cares anymore.

We are the technology

And no one will care anymore because the computer is getting more and more invisible. It was interesting to see the flurry of news about Computer Vision technologies the last week or so. Computer Vision brings a new level of intelligence to our stuff that enables it to be a much better friend to us. Robots won’t run into walls, TVs will know what we like, and we can create 3D worlds by just looking around ourselves. It’s no wonder the DIY community is diving into creating applications for machine vision. It’s what technology promised us from the very start. We deserve this.

There’s going to be plenty for processors to do as we ask our devices to interpret the world around us. AMD and Nvidia, Intel, Qualcomm, Google, Apple and the gang have been staking out territory for years. Now the game is afoot.