IDF Day One: Intel turns on the TV

Day 1 at IDF, which means three things: keynotes, technical briefings and the press room coffee.The keynotes – one from CEO Paul Otellini and one from general manager of Intel Architecture Dadi Perlmutter – were broad brush pictures.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Day 1 at IDF, which means three things: keynotes, technical briefings and the press room coffee.

The keynotes – one from CEO Paul Otellini and one from general manager of Intel Architecture Dadi Perlmutter – were broad brush pictures. Intel is keen to promote itself as a service provider, supporting developers across a continuum of devices from handhelds to high performance computers, all linked by the magic of the x86 instruction set. Dadi got a bit more meaty about Sandy Bridge, showing it running nice-to-have things like encrypted video conferencing and gesture recognition.

But you can read the keynote announcements anywhere. Here are the more diverting bits and pieces from the Intel keynote experience.

If you've got any doubt how much Intel loves China, shed it now. Intel mentions Chinese search engine giant Baidu. A lot. Baidu was in one of the Friends of Otellini videos in the keynote, unlike Google, and twice now I’ve caught execs saying “Google and Baidu” in conversation about cloud or search when ordinary mortals would just use the G word.

Not that there’s been a lot about cloud. Cloud and mobile may be coming later in the show, but it was curious that neither got much of a mention in the keynote. Storage and servers did – Intel was keen to remind us that EMC, Huawei, Cisco and ZTE are moving to x86 – but there’s not much for Intel in the way cloud lends itself to the low-cost, thin clients running browser-based apps that don’t care much about processor cleverness. If asked, Intel says that cloud should be 'client-aware' - so if a client does have lots of welly, it gets to share in the number crunching.

Smart TV got a lot of keynote tenderness. Intel hopes that this idea, which adds applications and friendly computing environments to your favourite domestic appliance, will turn into a pulsating mass of apps and excitement the way that the smartphone market went bonkers after the iPhone. It’s not the daftest of ideas: smart TVs won’t cost much more than ordinary tellies, and there are some good app opportunities. But the consumer industry is notoriously poor at marketing advanced ideas, especially when it needs competitors to work together, and without some very smart education and pump-priming it could go mouldy before the sell-by date.

On that front, the signs aren’t propitious. The keynote demonstration of a Google TV had all the signs of a plague of lawyers, who probably warned against showing anything off-air or from a commercial station. So the whole “This is your TV running YouTube, IM and Facebook” demonstration (not in itself a jaw-dropper to those in the audience looking at YouTube, IM and Facebook on their laptops at that exact moment) took place over a backdrop from PBS, the US public service TV network, which happened to be showing a Alzheimer’s support group meeting.

At the precise second that the benefits of mixing up Google and TV were being extolled, a large and detailed animation of a decaying brain glistened on the giant keynote screens. Hm.

Another good idea that may catch on: WiDi, the Wireless Display interface, where a mobile gizmo can automatically connect to a large display when they come into range of each other. This, I want – there are ‘more than 48’ WiDi designs out there in 12 countries, just not the one you’re in right now. (I hear that Dell in the UK and a couple of other retail chains are in the frame for WiDi before Christmas, but there's been nothing official.)

And the gesture recognition from Gesturetek looks fun, a man waved his hands around in front of a screen which obediently scrolled, selected and resized images. Less compelling was a 3D interface from Sixense based around two handheld wands; the demonstrator skilfully sliced, diced and rolled a selection of shiny geometric solids on screen, but the overall effect was of an enthusiastic toddler learning to use a knife and fork for the first time.

There was plenty of fodder for the paranoid, too. Intel’s continued development of image recognition now includes "virtual fences"; you take a video feed, and draw around a region of the screen that you want your machine to keep an eye on. The keynote demo involved a plate of executive doughnuts which were thieved by a hapless employee to a tocsin of sirens and flashing red squares: “We know who to punish now”, was the conclusion.

Otellini also said in passing that the only way to have secure computing was to go from known bad to known good – instead of scanning for malware, you have a trusted platform which only runs trusted applications. That would sort out zero day exploits, he said: well, only up to a point, Lord Paul. But as security is one of the Three Pillars of Intel (the others being power-savvy performance and connectivity), expect a lot more imposition of trust in the next few years.

Unexpected star of the keynote: "our pro gamer" David Sidd, who unleashed his arrestingly camp “Unstoppable force of AAAAAWWWWSAAAAAAAM!”collection of fighting icons into an online arena to be shredded in short order and turned into "A force of P-sauce", according to an unsympathetic colleague. Research has failed to uncover the nature of P-sauce, which is just as well.

Unwelcome, unanswered question of the keynote: “Will Sandy Bridge support USB 3?”

Tomorrow's keynotes – all about the "Continuum of Computing", which is a bit worrying But I'm really looking forward to Wednesday's R&D keynote, which is all about context. In the same way that physics is about matter and energy and only gets interesting when you combine the two, information science is about data and context. We're really good at data and very poor at context, so I'm hoping for some good mind fodder on what Intel thinks we should do with all these terabytes we're accumulating.

Stay tuned.

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