This year, Intel held its IDF during the same week as Apple’s iPhone launch, and it’s not the first time these events have coincided. However, I could count the number of times Intel has had something more interesting to present than Apple on one hand — and have five fingers left over.
That was true until last week, when Intel surprised the market with an obscure technology codenamed “Quark,” which promises to change dramatically the world we live in.
Apple, in contrast, launched a slightly revised iPhone, which will now come in the color “gold,” along with a minor iOS change — and it apparently discovered colors in a cheaper offering. Mostly, Apple’s big announcement was biometric fingerprint readers on its high-end iPhone, a technology PCs have had for more than a decade. For once, the Intel keynote was more interesting than Apple’s.
However you need to know where Quark is going to fully understand how revolutionary it can be. I’ll go into that and close with my product of the week: Dell’s amazing new Venue tablet.
Quark: Fixing the Endemic Computer Problem
If I were to sum up the biggest problem with the computer industry since its inception, it is that smart devices have actually been pretty stupid. From the beginning, computers knew very little about the world they lived in and we had to adapt to them. In short, while the perception was that they were created to be our servants, the reality is we serve them — and they don’t even know that much about us.
Quark, a very small-scale embedded technology, is supposed to address the second part of that — enabling the computerized world to better adapt to our needs automatically. It anticipates a future when most everything we touch will be computerized, sensor equipped, and able to determine automatically what it is we need to be more comfortable.
This is potentially a massive market, because it includes pretty much everything we touch that isn’t currently computerized and instrumented. It also includes many of the dumb devices — like security cameras and thermostats — that we think are intelligent and computerized, but really are not either.
Look around the room. Compared to the number of phones and PCs you have, how many light switches, light fixtures, chairs, tables windows, thermostats, doors with locks, and floors do you have? Each is a possible home for a Quark-enabled sensor, and each could be made smarter as a result.
The Quark Future
So this is the future that Quark will enable, and you’ll see it is very, very different. Think of beds that can monitor your comfort level and heat or cool, harden or soften, and even pulse (the return of magic fingers!) in order to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Imagine security systems that can not only identify you with a high degree of accuracy but also alert a medical service if it looks like you may experience a heart attack in the near future or if your child has fallen in the pool, or if anyone in your family has fallen and can’t get up.
You could have lights that not only turn on when you are near but also apply ideal levels of illumination based on whether you’re reading or watching TV, for example. Wearable devices will not only help you exercise by alerting you when your heart is in its target range, but also let you know if you’re getting angry or impaired to assist you in avoiding road rage — or rage in general — or a DUI conviction.
Windows could automatically shade themselves when you’re dressing or otherwise have a need for privacy and become transparent if there is something going on outside you actually want or need to see. Heating and cooling systems could adjust to accommodate the persons in the room and even target the furniture they’re sitting on.
Think of entertainment systems that could adjust their sound levels and speaker coverage based not only on what you’re watching or listening to, but also on specific preferences, automatically directing its efforts to please multiple listeners.
Imagine drones that auto launch when a noise is heard inside the house and report back what they have found — auto locking the intervening doors and alerting the authorities if necessary. Imagine drones that could auto launch and guide you out of a burning house, or alert you that your small child was attempting to escape the crib or otherwise about to do something dangerous. Imagine cribs that could alter themselves to keep your child entertained and less able to climb out.
In this world, you could just say what you want, and a screen or a device near you would automatically respond and fulfill that want.
This is the instrumented, vastly smarter world that Intel will try to create with Quark — and it makes PCs and smartphones seem so last century by comparison.
Wrapping Up: All Hail Genevieve Bell
This amazing effort, or at least the focus of it, is largely the result of one of the most influential people in the world: Intel Fellow Genevieve Bell. Bell’s team aims to drive Intel and the technology industry toward creating solutions like those I’ve described above, in the process transforming the world from one in which the humans are slaves to one in which we are the masters.
Bell is known as Intel’s secret weapon, and she is its most visible human competitive advantage. Through the efforts of Bell and her team, our future will be amazing and our technology far more focused on making us happy. This is so much more powerful than a new OS, gold phone or cheap, colorful phones — which is why I think Intel massively eclipsed Apple this year. Quark is a world changer.
Product of the Week: The Dell Venue Tablet
Back when Windows 8 launched, you had an ugly choice of tablets. You could get a light, inexpensive, thin one with great battery life that didn’t run much in the way of software but came with Office — with the exception of the most critical app, Outlook — or you could get a much more capable tablet that cost twice as much, had less than half the battery life and was nearly twice as heavy. Steve Jobs’ ghost must have been smiling as folks bought more iPads.
Well Intel’s Bay Trail processor just fixed the last part, and coupled with Windows 8.1, it promises to provide a thin, light and inexpensive tablet. I’m thinking Jobs’ ghost isn’t smiling anymore.
The most interesting of the products showcased on the main stage at IDF was Dell’s 8-inch Venue tablet, because it pushed the limits on sexy.
This is the first Windows Tablet I might actually give up my beloved Kindle Fire for — and over the years, I’ve actually started to do more email, shopping and movie viewing on my Fire and not on my phone or even my laptop.
Any product that can get me to consider an alternative to my beloved Kindle is worth being named the product of the week. This class of system will define the success or failure of Windows 8.1. We’ll get more details on the Venue next month, when Windows 8.1 launches and the tablet officially becomes available, but I’m making it product of the week early. Thanks to Dell and Intel’s Bay Trail processor, it is just damned sexy.