If the thought of another app store on every PC you buy makes you think ‘shovelware’ as it's more politely known, don't despair quite yet. While one of the ways that Intel is aiming to achieve the six millions users AppUp general manager Peter Biddle has promised in a year's time is by making it hard to find an Ultrabook that doesn't have Intel's app store on, he's pushing for that to be something you don't immediately uninstall. Tellingly, he mentioned at the recent AppUp Elements conference that the team has started hiring designers.
Think of Ultrabooks, he suggests, as first the new low-power high-performance Core processors (they run only half as hot as current Sandy Bridge Cores) and the promised 5-8 hours battery life, then the industrial design of the ultra-thin cases - with AppUp as a good experience on top of that, bringing you apps that showcase features like touch screens.
We recently asked Windows VP Steven Sinofsky about the way cramming trial software onto new PCs that slow down boot and clutter up the interface doesn't give Windows a good name and he pointed to the easy way you can uninstall apps right from the Windows 8 Metro-style Start screen, and the way you'll be able to kill startup programs from Task Manager, but he did point out that the OEMs who make PCs think of the software they include as adding value for the buyer (although the value to the PC maker themself is something like $90 per notebook in payments from the software companies).
When we asked Peter Biddle how he could stop OEMs from making Ultrabooks with AppUp on from feeling like they were stuffed with crapware, he said he would "violently agree" that the PC experience is often terrible when you first get a new machine.
"Most of the OEMs think 'you ship the device and you're done'. I would say the ecosystem has become so efficient that the people who were paid healthy living wages to think about what end users want and how they'll use the device on an on-going basis, they were downsized or shifted to other things in many of those companies five years ago. If what you're really good at is fulfilling the channel and shaving fifths of a penny of your Bill Of Materials, you may or may not be good at industrial design, you're going to good at how to market a gloss pink compared to flat black to a given customer segment. It is a seriously uphill battle with some people in the ecosystem, to get then to think about being in the end-user happiness, the on-going end-user delight business…
"Part of what we're doing is having to convince Intel of this too. We think of ourselves as being - well, at least we have been going out and getting great enabling apps to make the hardware shine for decades, but for people outside AppUp and other teams like ours it is alien to be thinking about and to be trying to build a consumer services business. It's not surprising that Hank Skorny [who opened the AppUp event] has a new position as chairman of a new division that didn’t exist before - the Intel consumer services division. We're contending with this this inside Intel."
He's brutal about the future of PC makers that don't get it, if Intel can get this right - and equally brutal about his own if it can't.
"I think we're going to be able to convince some of [the OEMs] through a combination of showing them great experiences and showing them that users enjoy what they get when you deliver the full package more than when you deliver less than the full package. Some of them aren't going to get it and if turns out that we're right, those guys will be impacted - their business will not be as successful and they'll go out of business. If we’re wrong then we're just overhead and it won't matter, because I wont be here on stage next year.
"There are some companies who completely understand why they want to do AppUp. Dixons; boy, do they get it. They are totally busting our chops every meeting that we need to up our game because of all these things they want. If you're Dixons, the first Apple store opened in the UK and [Apple] are trying - for the goods they sell - to put you out of business. They're completely on your home turf because they've blocked you out of the iTunes business, you're not in the iPhone business, you're not in the app business, you're not in the software distribution business - you really have no digital presence at all and here they are showing up, going head to head with you on brick and mortar in a business model that, for Apple, is extraordinarily successful . And if you're Dixons you're thinking 'we do not want to be Iceland,' selling frozen food because that's the only way you can keep your margins down and going out of business.
Leaving aside whether Dixons and PC World actually can match that curated design experience of Apple, it's interesting to see how much more of the PC stack Intel wants to be involved in - from the DeepSafe security virtualisation layer it wants to run beneath the operating system, to the operating system - whether that's MeeGo, Tizen or whatever it's called by next year - to the services that bring you apps. Having one company enforce the experience and the specification and the services can work well; the question is whether it works well when that company isn't Apple.