Intel Steers Aggressive Course While Apple Appears Rudderless
At its Developer Forum, Intel introduced a few wildly futuristic technologies, such as power transfer without wires, something that has long fascinated columnist Rob Enderle. Apple, on the other hand, has failed to impress him, acting instead like a company with no leadership.
08/25/08 4:00 AM PT
Last week was kind of amazing -- I knew a number of things that were going to be happening at IDF but was blindsided by an announcement Intel made that could change the world as we know it. Nikola Tesla turned over in his grave, and we are one step closer to his Tower of Power. Intel also fleshed out its Atom platform, which I think forms the basis of a new class of cloud computing-based client devices.
Apple, on the other hand, appears rudderless all of a sudden. The new iPhone (recall I suggested you avoid this product) is having a massive number of problems: It can't connect, MobileMe seems to be an alpha-quality service, and the patch Apple just issued to fix the first problem evidently broke more things, and now we have the first related class-action litigation.
In addition, iPods are catching fire and Apple is responding like Nero did -- by fiddling around. The lights are on in the CEO's office but this looks like no one is home; I spoke about that earlier as well.
Finally, we'll have my product of the week, an offering that can make your aging computer feel new again that actually works.
Intel May Change the World
When I was younger, I was fascinated by the idea of broadcast power. As I grew older, the problems associated with storing power became more evident, and the difficulties in creating alternatives like fuel cells more painful, and the rumored disappearance of Tesla's last work more troubling.
The idea of being able to broadcast power over short distances, which is what Intel announced, near-term means we lose the hated wall warts. However, it comes at an initial cost of 25 percent efficiency, though I expect that could be recovered by making sure the mini power grid didn't produce more than was needed. We've had bidirectional networking technology like Bluetooth for some time that could address that opportunity.
But it is the idea that we have companies of the size and scale of Intel working on broadcast power again that has me excited, and it's been a long time since I've seen this level of interest in something that could eventually make gas obsolete and truly make environmentally friendlier electric cars and potentially safer electric appliances a reality -- not to mention getting rid of all those unattractive and unsafe power lines. Intel's demonstration could really help create massive world change and prove Tesla right after all.
Intel's Atom: The Cloud Client Is Born
Intel was showcasing two Atom product categories -- one that has already been around for about a year, the netbook, and the MID that has just started to make a splash with its first big showing at the Beijing Olympics.
Both of these products are short on processing power, adequate with regard to networking and long on portability, price and battery life. To me, this makes them the perfect clients for the emerging cloud computing world, but so far I haven't seen anyone do an Apple-like job to complete the offerings.
What Apple did with the iPod and iPhone is wrap attractive devices with a custom platform (the iPhone uses a unique -- not generic -- form of the MacOS), and back-end services like iTunes and MobileMe.
What I've seen so far is some great hardware (the HP netbook is currently the best in my opinion) for netbooks, attractive hardware and platform for MIDs (the Lenovo does the best job here, and you wouldn't even know it was running Linux), but the necessary cloud-based back end remains largely uncooked.
For the netbooks, you currently get a choice of Ubuntu Linux, which looks old; Windows XP, which is old, and Vista Basic, which is crippled. I think the gOS would be vastly better than generic Ubuntu (it is a MacOS-looking derivative of Ubuntu) and that if XP or Vista is used it should go through the kind of effort that created the HP TouchSmart interface so it looks current and compelling.
It is fascinating that Intel is actually doing its own Linux distribution to finish off the MID platform. I agree that given the choices, this was a reasonable and probably necessary one to make. But it will be the services that will make both of these platforms sing.
If you do pick up a netbook, there are a couple of products that can make it much more useful and attractive. First Stardock's WindowBlinds can give it a stunning user interface if it is running XP or Vista Basic, and a good syncing product like SugarSync or Live Mesh can keep it loaded with the documents, music, and other stuff that will allow it to work in conjunction with your desktop system.
But overall, a little Apple sauce would make both MIDs and netbooks vastly more useful, attractive and popular.
Apple: Looking for Leadership
Recall that Apple acted decisively when it had the laptop battery problem under Steve Jobs. Decisive does not define Apple's latest actions, though, as it moves lamely from problem to problem, trying -- often unsuccessfully -- to fix or even hide from them.
With the iPods catching fire in particular, this is potentially a company killer. If one of these now goes up in the wrong place and lives are lost, the liability could jump to historic levels because it is clear Apple knows there is a problem and is doing little or nothing to address it.
This goes beyond the headphone-chemicals-that-could-cause-sterility-in-children problem it had earlier because these devices are in kids' rooms and children tend to sleep deeply and through fire alarms (which, given the fire would originate in the child's room, are likely to go off too late anyway).
Apple appears to think 14 fires is a small number -- what is the value of one child's life? Some things are more important than a bottom line.
Apple clearly rushed the iPhone to market and appears to have cut costs too much, which either drove the supplier to use poor-quality components or inadequate testing and possibly both. A patch for a problem like this never works, generally it just shifts the problem, and apparently in this case didn't even do that, as reports indicate the problem remains. Post-patch, the GPS system is now failing.
It feels like Jobs is no longer running the company, and that is both troubling and a likely indicator of what will happen to Apple if he leaves permanently.
Dell MP3 Update
By the way, I mentioned earlier that the Apple-funded sites were moving against the Dell MP3 player. One has responded by saying they aren't Apple-funded, they are paid a commission for selling Apple products, that folks like them are actually Apple Store affiliates. My bad -- in short, they are Apple sales reps. I'm sure Apple is very proud of them. Check it out. Unlike some of the Apple-funded sales rep sites, I actually like my readers to see what I'm talking about.
Product of the Week: Large Software's PC Tune-UpIf you use a Windows PC for a while, you will notice that it slows down substantially over the time you have it. This is due to a lot of reasons, including disk fragmentation, loading a lot of stuff you don't have to load, settings that make the system slower, etc. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been testing several products that address this shortcoming. The most comprehensive was PC Tune-Up, and if you go to their site, they have a free trial so you can see how much faster it will make your system run.
In fact, coupled with the products I mentioned above and given the performance issues of netbooks, if you get one of those you may want to get a product in this class. For now, PC Tune-Up is the best I've tested so far and so it is my product of the week.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.