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Intel pursuing new chips as it plots a wearables future

Agam Shah | March 16, 2017
Intel is developing a new version of its Curie chip for wearables

Intel wearables
Intel wearables

Every year, Intel is present at Fashion Week in New York, showing off how technology will change fashion. It's an odd match, but the depth of technologies shown by Intel has changed every year.

In previous years, Intel showed off cool bracelets, smart clothes, and an odd robotic spider dress by Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht. Intel's 2017 showcase was a lot different and more practical, sprinkling in retail technologies with otherworldly wearables.

That move to the practical, in a nutshell, describes Intel's tryst with its wearables unit -- from starting as a lab for cool devices to becoming a bootstrapped group focused on practical products amid the company's efforts to reduce wasted spending. Intel believes the best wearable products are yet to come, and it wants to change the way we interact with computing devices, share information, and even entertain ourselves.

Intel is developing pursuing chips for wearables like Curie, which will be smaller and faster than the existing chip, and help make sleeker wearables, said Jerry Bautista, vice president and general manager for the New Devices Group at Intel.

"We have to run just like any other responsible business effort that Intel has," Bautista said.

The wearables group started off under the New Devices Group, established in 2013. Intel subsequently acquired companies like Basis to boost its wearables offerings but the unit didn't turn a profit. Amid restructuring, reports emerged last year that Intel had quit wearables. But the effort is still alive and more focused on delivering products that complement Intel's broader focus in areas like servers and the internet of things.

Wearables are a pretty small operation at Intel, and it'll keep operating under the radar, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

There are huge untapped markets in wearables, especially in vertical areas like health care. It's hard to say when Intel will find a commercially successful product, but the company will continue developing products, Brookwood said.

"It's like Google: You keep throwing things against a wall, something may stick," Brookwood said.

Despite a more disciplined approach, the cool products and bright ideas keep coming. Every trade show, Intel dazzles audiences with wearable technologies based on its chips and software. Intel's stage shows have featured Oscar winner A.R. Rahman playing music out of smartwatch-like devices, small shirt buttons that can gather health data, and helmets that can make driving cars and riding bikes safer.

Intel has also shown its Project Alloy headset, a mixed-reality headset where objects pop up as floating images in mid-air. It's much like Microsoft's HoloLens -- which also uses Intel chips -- but with faster hardware.

 

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