Intel's latest quarterly results, due later today, should provide some clues to the health of the PC market.
Lately the signs haven't been good. A month ago Intel announced that first quarter sales would be lower than expected due to sluggish demand for business desktops and it withdrew its forecast for the rest of the year. The last week we got the preliminary PC numbers Gartner said worldwide shipments declined 5.2 percent to 71.7 million units; IDC said units were down 6.7 percent to 68.5 million. Intel may be "boxed in," The Wall Street Journal speculates, as the PC market continues to dwindle and its mobile efforts make relatively little headway.
Intel insists there's still plenty of life left in the PC market. "We believe there is still a large amount of innovation available in the PC space," CEO Brian Krzanich said at last week's Intel Developer Forum in Shenzhen (the webcast is here).
In particular, Krzanich cited four technologies that will boost PC sales later this year: the introduction of the 6th-generation Core processor (better-known as Skylake), Windows 10, integrated RealSense 3D cameras and "true wireless computing" with the addition of 60GHz WiGig or 802.11ad wireless docking and Rezence wireless charging technology.
At the conference Intel showed several "reference" systems, including a 2-in-1, with Skylake running Windows 10. The company also demonstrated how a system with Skylake and a RealSense 3D camera can use Microsoft's Windows Hello biometric features to quickly recognize a user and automatically log in. It's hardly the first "log in with your face" demo, but what was impressive about this one is that it took only a couple of seconds. "This is where we believe computing is headed," Krzanich said.
In mobile, Intel's goal was to ship chips for 40 million tablets last year. Krzanich said that Intel exceeded that goal by shipping 46 million (though this came at great financial cost). I recently wrote about the Atom x5 and x7, the company's first 14nm Atom processors for Android and Windows tablets, and the Atom x3 (formerly known as SoFIA), which is Intel's first processor to integrate wireless on the same die. Intel said it now has 14 customers working on 48 smartphone and phablet designs using the x3.
Intel gave a live demonstration of an smartphone with an Atom x3 running on China Mobile's 4G LTE wireless network streaming music from Tencent's QQ service. Spreadtrum will sell a family of Intel processors, which will be followed by a line of co-designed processors. Yesterday, at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair, Intel announced that the x3-C3230RK quad-core processor, a chip co-designed with Rockchip, was now in mass production. Intel had previously said that 10 companies will be launching devices based on the x3-C3230RK later this quarter and a local report stated that several of these are on display in Hong Kong this week.
In Shenzhen Intel announced that Celeron- and Pentium-branded 14nm processors, code-named Braswell, are also shipping. These are a replacement for the Bay Trail-M and Bay Trail-D processors used in smaller 2-in-1s, entry-level laptops, all-in-ones and small form-factor desktops. The company said more than 40 systems based on Braswell will be shipping in the second half of the year.
Intel also revealed a new version of its RealSense 3D camera that is half the size and thickness of the previous model and showed, for the first time, how it can now fit into a smartphone. Intel has partnered with JD.com to use devices with RealSense to improve inventory management and shipping in its warehouses, and demonstrated how a prototype tablet can use the 3D camera to measure several boxes and objects and then figure how to store them efficiently on shelves or pack them for shipping.
While Intel's mobile results will now be rolled up be rolled up into the much larger PC business, the company said it still plans to provide an update on it progress in smartphones and tablets later today.
Finally, Krzanich said that Intel's data center business in China has been grew 16 percent last year driven by the public cloud, software-defined networking (SDN) and transformation of the data center, Big Data and analytics, and the private cloud. In general Intel's data center business has been strong, propelled by driven by the introduction of the Xeon E5 v3 (Haswell) server processors.