Intel’s Role in Setting the Tech Agenda

on August 26, 2015

For about 15 years, there was an important tech conference held each October called Agenda. It ran from the late 1980s to early 2000s and was sponsored by IDG and hosted by my friend Stewart Alsop, who I first met when he was at Infoworld. During this time, Stewart was considered one of the most important and powerful journalists in the tech world.

The concept of Agenda was relatively simple. Each year the top leadership of the PC industry would gather in Phoenix, AZ and literally set the agenda for the next year. Keep in mind that, during most of that time, the only real tech market was driven by PCs. I loved this event and looked forward to it every year. In fact, I still have the jacket they gave to all of us who had attended it each year for the first decade.

Interestingly, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher’s original All Things D conference was somewhat patterned after this and, when Agenda was discontinued, All Things D took up the mantle of bringing major tech leaders to a conference to share what their agenda would be or what they were doing that would impact the overall tech market. Today’s Re/code conference roots can also be traced to Agenda, among other conferences that have helped shape our industry.

Most years, the CEO’s of Intel, Microsoft, HP, Dell, IBM and others who either headed a major tech company or were major contributors would speak at Agenda and, in a sense, give a sort of state-of-the-industry speech from their viewpoint and talk about where they were taking their companies in the next year. Those who attended this conference would get great insight, ideas and futuristic thinking about the role the PC would play in the coming year. In 1995, I was asked to put my futurist hat on and talk about the connected refrigerator and the concept of connected appliances, something that today is now mainstream. At the end of each year’s conference, Stewart Alsop would summarize what was shared and give us our “agenda” or marching orders for the new year.

Although many companies were critical in impacting the overall PC agenda, there were two companies that really drove its future. One was Intel and the other was Microsoft.

Intel would drive the PC designs and architecture via their chips and Microsoft would deliver the OS that took advantage of these new processors. Together, they significantly impacted each year’s agenda. Today, Microsoft is still important when it comes to the OS agenda for PC makers, but they no longer have the power they once did now that Apple is also playing a key role at the hardware, OS, and software level. On the other hand, Intel’s processors sit at the center of the vast majority of PCs whether they are based on Windows or OS X. It is the one constant still at the core driving the direction of the PC industry.

As I sat through the keynote at Intel’s Developer Forum last week and heard CEO Brian Krazanich talk about the areas Intel was influencing with their Skylake processors for PCs and the Quark CPU and the Edison SOC for IoT, it became clear to me Intel is now, and has to continue to be, an important influencer in setting the direction for the tech industry. Yes, there are other companies creating processors but other than Apple with their A-Series chips used in the iPhone, iPad, iPod and, perhaps soon, the Apple TV, no other company is in a place to help set the broader tech future better than Intel.

Indeed, in Brian’s keynote he spent most of the 90 minutes talking about Intel’s role in IoT and connected devices and showed multiple examples of connected products — whether in a home, car, robot, bike and many other settings where their processors could be used to power IoT and a connected world. And for those attending IDF, in the booths upstairs they could view dozens of exhibits showing all types of items in a connected home, powerful game systems and Intel’s vision for interacting with technology via voice, gestures, and motion. In fact, if you followed the keynote closely and went through all of the exhibits, Intel’s view of a connected world touched just about everything people encounter in their daily lives.

What really makes them important as a trendsetter is their labs. Although Intel’s core business is to create CPUs and companion chips, their labs are inventing the future by creating all types of digital devices that could use them. They have learned that, if they can imagine a product that has appeal to businesses and consumers, they can get a tech partner to eventually bring it to market. Intel processors can be used in robotics, for example. They use this process to invent the future as well as drive a broader tech agenda that, in the end, helps grow the market for tech and helps users of their processors fuel this growth.

Apple is a serious agenda setter in their own right but they are much more focused on creating products that feed their own ecosystem of hardware, software, and services. On the other hand, Intel is willing to create all types of products that use their chips and their labs are not limited by specific ecosystems or partner restrictions in any way. Instead, Intel “riffs” around tech ideas, gadgets, and devices and uses this process to broaden their market potential as well as influence a broader tech market focus. Intel is in an important position to drive our tech agenda and, at the moment, they are the only one I see that can drive the broader tech market forward.

I believe Intel plays an important role in this process. I hope they continue to make research and development a cornerstone of their strategy and dream up the future and showcase it for all to see. The role to help invent the future falls on Intel’s shoulders, regardless of whether the future runs on their silicon or not.