Intel’s Role in Setting the Tech Agenda

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.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

9 thoughts on “Intel’s Role in Setting the Tech Agenda”

  1. I think it’s interesting how many times Apple is mentioned in this article.

    While many aren’t seeing it as a major event, I am very interested in what will happen with the iPad Pro (or whatever it will be called). While many are seeing it as merely a potentially larger iPad, it really is more. Along with the iOS 9 multitasking features for iPad (split screen, picture in picture) this new iPad will truly be on par with a laptop for a vast majority of both consumer and business users. It will also be running an Apple ARM chip rather than an Intel chip.

    While Apples overall sales may not change much (increased iPad sales might be offset be less MacBook sales) it really will be a watershed moment where an Intel compatible chip is no longer a requirement in a device with full productivity capabilities.

    1. When Tim and I discussed this article last week, we debated whether stating this was Apple setting the agenda or not. We reasoned that Apple is the leader, however, because of the nature of their ecosystem they are innovating for THEIR ecosystem. Someone has to power and allow others to compete in core areas like smart home, smart city, smart car, etc., This is where we think Intel is setting the broader agenda as a good thing.

  2. As I sat in Brian Krazanich’s keynote, I got excited by the various technologies that Intel presented that were improvements to PCs. It made me wonder if some of this would appeal to Apple enough so that future iPhones and/or iPads would have Intel chips in them. I understand that Apple’s Ax and Mx series of silicon are highly tuned to Apple’s product needs, it seems that those same technologies that Intel is working on would be great in a phone or a pad.
    Especially the audio input, visual input, and identity processing were strong. Maybe it’s something that Microsoft owns too much of for intel to share with Apple but it could have a huge impact in identity protection.
    The voice power-on feature seemed pretty interesting. Can you imagine pulling out your notebook and speaking the power-on phrase as it clears your bag? Before you finished opening it up, it would be signed into Windows. Pretty cool.

  3. Even though Apple is innovation for their “own” ecosystems, when we go take a look around Shenzhen and TSMC, we can see how Apple’s influence is propagating in those places and shaping the tech agenda from the component levels. TSMC is now building multiple fabs to sustain future Ax chips, the scale and speed of these investments was unthinkable and only can be done by Intel in the past. Now TSMC is getting all the money they need as long as Apple is behind them. In 1 to 2 years, these new fabs and their top-end fab process will create so much capacity (after Apple moves on to even newer fabs), a A8 or A9 level RISC processors will be cheap enough to be used in all kind of smart electronics everywhere. And in Shenzhen everyone is conscious of what components are used inside every new iPhone and quickly adopt them for their android phone designs because that is the smartest way to get quality parts at the volume pricing and also provide competitive specs and functions in a smartphone marketplace shaped by Apple. The point I’m trying to make here is all future tech trends require a combination of future thinking and economic of scale to be realized in the marketplace. With Apple setting the technology trend for the smartphone, tablets, Mac PC, smartwatch and perhaps smart TV, smart home and smart car in the near future, as long as they have the consumers attentions, I think they will be more important than Intel in setting the future tech agenda.

  4. Intel is the odd exception to the rule, that the most successful in promoting and benefitting from progress eventually morph into the biggest forces standing in the way of progress. Apparently it’s their business model: more uses and faster better cooler cheaper less power consumption smaller, every year.

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