When Paul Otellini came to the helm of Intel as CEO, the company was not in great shape. This was mentioned by Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, as he introduced Otellini for his keynote speech at CES’s opening day.
It wasn’t out of any sense of spite or bad grace. Rather, it’s a point in the man’s favour: as the first CEO of Intel without a PhD, he’s managed to do a great job of turning the company around.
Otellini didn’t waste any time, opening his speech with a possibly corny re-write of the 80s classic Video Killed the Radio Star, re-casting the internet as the great killer. In fact, that was the theme of the entire speech. You might think it odd that the head of a company that makes microprocessors would eschew his little silicon babies in lieu of a technology that is well over a decade old. However, Otellini’s vision is far broader than that.
For him, it’s birthing the next generation of the internet, a net that combines a number of next-gen and already established technologies to create what he calls the personal internet. Like any good showman, he followed the maxim of ‘show, don’t tell’, and barrelled into a demonstration of what he thinks handheld GPS units will be capable of in a few years.
Using the idea of a tourist in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, Otellini and his assistant used a GPS device to create what he called ‘augmented reality’. The GPS has a camera and a large LCD; the first trick was to point the camera at a street sign written in Chinese, which the GPS then translated into English, and placed a floating, properly rendered English sign over the original. The same trick was done with a restaurant and its posted menu, with the additional trick of providing tagged information, seemingly ‘hanging’ off the poster and sign – customer reviews, price lists, recommendations. The GPS device was also able to correctly translate spoken Chinese, making it an indispensable tool for any traveller.
The catch? All the while, this GPS was attached to a thick black cable that ran off stage. At the demonstration’s end, Otellini was up front in admitting that all those tricks were only possible thanks to the Quad Core machines backstage. This is where we get to the question of silicon, and the meat of Otellini’s vision.
It’s all well and good to increase the power of your average PC CPU, but the real benefits can be seen when that technology trickles down into smaller form factors. In this case, Otellini is looking ahead to when the power of a modern Dual or Quad Core can be shrunk down in both size and power consumption to something that can fit into a phone-sized device.
He continued his keynote and showed off the Canmore processor: Intel’s first system-on-a-chip CPU -- with graphics, A/V, security and more all built onto the die. Menlow, an ultra portable, super low power chip, was also on display, clearly marking Intel’s mobile roadmap into the future. A very mobile one.