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Meeting the Makers at IDF14

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Intel may be the Godzilla of computer processing technology, but all giants have humble beginnings, and if they do not keep in touch with their inspirational grassroots, they may wither and die. At this years’ Intel Developers Forum (IDF14), Intel recognized the inspirational importance of young, untethered, way-out-of-box talent as manifested in the global Makers Movement — a white-hat, hardware-focused hacker community helping teenagers to build their own stuff.

The Intel CEO Brian Krzanich regularly visits the voluntary computer workshops set up in over 300 cities around the world, and Intel pitches its tent and provides kit whenever there are Maker Tech Faires, such as the Global Maker Faire event in New York this month. The tie-in with the bigger Intel story is the focus on engaging a developer community, that can turn Intel hardware and software into market winning products. Pretty much every plenary session at IDF14 included suggestions as to how software and machine designers can create products using the Intel hardware and SDKs (software development kits).

Intel Inside the Infrastructure

Marketwise, Intel continues to dominate the global processor market — from mobile edge devices to high-end servers and networks. For the ultra-high speed WAN data transfers, Intel hardware partners like Fujitsu, Dell, HP, and Arista (IBM) demonstrated Xeon processors like the E5-4600 pushing network speeds to 100Gbps. In the SDN/NFV networking infrastructure, the intelligent edge comprised of standard servers hosting apps, maintaining security, providing analytics services etc., simultaneously direct traffic among virtual machines across an overlay network. Networking functions are offloaded to Intel’s DPDK (Data Plane Developer Kit) compliant FlowNICs, in order to free up x86 CPU cycles to run more apps.

Mobility to Sustain Growth

However, Intel recognizes that its real growth potential is in mobility and fashionable wearability, which took center stage at IDF14. Having out-competed AMD to a distant second, today’s most serious competition is from the UK-based ARM manufacturer ecosystem in the fast expanding markets for smart phones, tablets, laptops and 2-in-1s (combining the tablet with a full keypad — a market where Intel claims leadership with 40 million devices shipped last year).

Intel now wants to streamline the mobile user experience. First comes the untethering of mobile devices by getting rid of physical power connections in the consumer environment. To this end, Intel launched a variety of wireless charging surfaces for phones and laptops for the developer community to productize. Then followed the battery-life issue. With its classic partnering strategy, Intel announced a partnership with Samsung to make brighter and less power consuming screens, and true to Moore’s Law, Intel adds a range of extremely power-conserving 14nm Core M processors to prolong time-to-recharge. Then there is the user pain of managing multiple passwords and authentication processes on small devices. Intel’s answer is facial biometrics kits for visual identification and authentication of the user. Finally comes the cool factor with fashion designed Gossip smart-watches and Barneys smart-bracelets to  take Google-Glass-geekiness out of the wearables equation.

IoT is the Joker

Intel’s processors for powering mobile devices include Quark and Atom, which also play a key role in its strategy for the nebulous Internet-of-Things (IoT) market. IoT refers to the interconnection of uniquely identifiable, embedded, information collection and processing devices, which in turn are connected to the existing Internet infrastructure. IoT devices are usually web connected via some kind of gateway – several Intel spokespersons went so far as to claim that the IoT is really the Internet-of-APIs. So Intel announced Quark and Atom  powered gateways with open APIs for both home IoT (typically monitoring energy, security and entertainment systems), and enterprise IoT systems that monitor production and environmental processes.

Intel’s IoT showcases included: Jimmy the friendly robot; rhino animal tracking in South Africa; Smart loos at Heathrow Airport; Building monitoring systems in Singapore; Large truck management in the US; And a navigation enhanced wheelchair for British astrophysicist Steven Hawking.

Overall, this year’s IDF was set in a playful mood underpinned by rock music, cool fashion and lots of graffiti on the stands housing yet smaller, yet faster components and software systems delivering yet cheaper and wider horizons for developers (with no lower age limit) to go and create.

Image credit: Wesley Lee ( / CC-BY