The back-to-school season kicks off with a bang

Posted: 09.11.13

Intel’s IDF promotes the Internet of things and Apple introduces new things

It’s back-to-school time and the news is coming really thick and fast. Is Apple doomed? Is the PC dead? Did Miley Cyrus do anything really embarrassing in the last 24 hours?
We’re all going back to school because we’re going to have to learn new ways to do things. Luckily, it looks like education is going to be increasingly accessible via MOOCs (massive online open courses), which we can study using any device any time we’ve got a minute to get smarter. On the other side, the machines we’re using are going to be busy learning new things about us, too.

Intel’s new-ish CEO Brian Krzanich led off Intel’s Developer Conference (IDF), and he started by celebrating In¬tel’s leading position in the industry. His claim is that there’s never been a bet¬ter time to be leading Intel. Certainly there’ve been times when it wasn’t so great. Intel’s previous CEO Paul Ottellini battled the decline of the PC and after a while chose to take an early re-tirement. Before him, CEO Craig Barrett was brought low by physics—CPUs couldn’t simply get faster, Intel had to get smarter. Krzanich took a giant leap over a discussion of devices and declared this as the age of the system. Far from worrying about how many people might buy a PC, Krzanich says Intel dominates the digital uni¬verse from servers to phones. Phones? Yes, absolutely—at IDC Intel showed off its 14-nm Broadwell computer, and Krzanich claimed the company will see new phone wins as a result of their low-power chip, which will be LTE-capable by the end of the year. This time around, says Krzanich, Intel wins in phones.INTEL CEO Brian Krzanich shows off Intel’s latest tiny thing.

But who cares? That’s the small stuff. Intel says in the coming era of the Internet of Things we’ll be covered in processors, our cars will be covered in processors, and all these processors will be talking to each other, they’ll be talking to our doctors, and our houses, and our cities, and they’ll be talking to us. Intel doesn’t need all of this business, but the company obviously expects to get a bunch of it.

Intel’s president Renee James talked about the ways in which Intel is trying to improve people’s lives by providing wider access to modern medical miracles including genome sequencing. She introduced Intel Fellow Eric Dishman, whose life has literally been saved by technology. After 20 years of battling cancer, Dishman was told that thanks to the information provided by genomic profiling, his doctors figured out how to treat his cancer and he was cancer-free within months. Now Intel says they are trying to scale the technology for DNA sequencing.

Meanwhile just down the Peninsula from IDF in San Francisco, the Apple crew was trying to convince their audi¬ence in Cupertino and the world that Apple is not falling down in the technology race. So far, as we’re writing this, the company has announced two new iPhones: a low-cost version the iPhone 5C) and the high-end iPhone 5S. The iPhone 5C will sell for only $99, and it comes in candy colors. The 5S has a more expensive looking metallic finish and supports 64-bit applications. Apple is also unveiling its new Apple iTunes radio service and its plans to make iWork free. It’s all good, but it doesn’t really hold a candle to curing cancer.

It feels like we’re just moving out of a long period where personal high tech was simply a matter of introducing one product after another, each one designed to be just a little bit better than what came before to keep us buying. Sooner or later that approach is going to fail, just as surely as Moore’s Law is going to fail sooner or later. We’ve already moved beyond the time when chips could simply get more powerful, now they’re made of more pieces and smarter pieces. This is true of Intel’s chips, AMD’s chips, ARM-based chips, and MIPS chips.

At IDF Intel introduced the tiny Quark processor—it’s one-fifth the size of the latest processors and it consumes one-tenth the power.

Moore’s Law doesn’t really go away, it just gets redefined. The little Quark might be an example of Moore’s Law in the traditional sense, but when it’s embedded in everything, worn, and maybe even swallowed, Moore’s Law becomes much more about connections made and amplified.

We’re seeing the first phase of invisible computing. Someday soon no one is going to care whether a device is blue, pink, or gold because it will be invisible. It doesn’t even seem too optimistic to hope that it really can make our lives better.