Intel Puts IoT, Wearables Front and Center at IDF

The chip maker launches the Edison development board for smart devices and outlines other efforts to get developers to use its technologies.

Intel CEO Krzanich

SAN FRANCISCO—Intel is continuing its aggressive push into wearable devices and the Internet of things, both high-growth markets that CEO Brian Krzanich and other company executives see as fertile soil for the chip maker.

Both wearables and the Internet of things (IoT) were the dominant topics Sept. 9 during the first day of the company's annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) here, commanding the bulk of Krzanich's keynote address and other sessions later in the day aimed at encouraging developers to create hardware and software products based on Intel technology.

Among the key announcements was that Edison—a development board developers can use to quickly build smart systems—is now available, and that he expected products based on it to be ready by the end of the year. Intel officials also showed off a number of wearable devices—including the new MICA high-end smart bracelet and BioSport earbuds from SMS Audio that can monitor a user's heart and charge itself through the device it's connected to—that leverage the company's technology.

In addition, Mike Bell. vice president and general manager of Intel's New Devices Group, teased that the company's Basis subsidiary will roll out a new smartwatch—called the Basis Peak—in time for the holidays.

The IoT and wearable device markets are important to Intel on a number of levels. The growth in both markets is expected to be rapid and steep. Intel officials said they expect the number of connected devices in the world to hit 50 billion by 2020, and that by 2018, there will be 320 million wearable devices. IDC analysts have said they expect revenues from IoT to reach $7.1 trillion by 2020, and Cisco Systems executives have said the potential financial windfall for businesses globally could reach $19 trillion.

Intel, whose processors are found in most PCs and servers on the market, has been roundly criticized for missing the industry shift to mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. While Intel over the past few years has worked hard to drive down the power consumption of its chips to make them more competitive with low-power offerings based on the ARM architecture and manufactured by such companies as Samsung and Qualcomm, it has struggled to gain significant traction in the mobile chip space.

However, Krzanich made moves after assuming the CEO job in May 2013 to ensure the chip maker didn't miss out on the vast opportunities presented by the IoT and smart devices. He created the New Devices Group to develop technologies for wearables and other devices, and launched a business unit dedicated to the IoT. At IDF a year ago, Intel unveiled Quark, a new family of very small, energy-efficient systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) aimed at the IoT and wearbles.

Soon after, Intel rolled out Galileo, a development board based on Quark meant to encourage developers to use Intel Architecture in their wearable and IoT systems, and has since released the second generation of Galileo.

Edison builds off of that. The development board—which is about the size of a postage stamp—uses a dual-core 22-nanometer Atom SoC at 500MHz and a 32-bit Quark chip at 100MHz. It has both dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth integrated, includes framework for device-to-device and device-to-cloud communications, offers 1GB of memory and 4GB of flash storage. Edison will sell for $50.

The board, which can be used on expansion boards, gives developers a faster route for creating prototypes and products to bring to market, according to Bell.

"We wanted to let people quickly build their prototypes without having to go get a custom board made," he said.

Bell said some companies already were coming out with support for Edison, including SparkFun Electronics, which has built 14 expansion boards for it. 3D Robotics will use Edison in its Iris+ drone copters, according to Chris Anderson, co-founder and CEO.

"What Edison does is lower the barrier of entry" to developers who want to create systems for the IoT, Anderson said during a session at IDF.

For Intel, the IoT and wearable devices are platform plays, and officials are pushing to have the company touch every part of the markets. It starts with the technology in the devices—and not only the silicon. The company is rolling out software development kits, including the new Analytics for Wearables—dubbed A-Wear—as well as its IoT Development Kit and Gateway Solutions for IoT kit. A-Wear includes software and tools from Intel and management technology from Cloudera, and will be free to developers.

Intel also is active in helping to create open standards that will help establish frameworks for systems within the IoT—including wearable devices—to communicate with the Internet and each other. The chip maker is a key player in both the Open Interconnect Consortium and the Industrial Internet Consortium. Intel in April launched a $100 million smart devices fund, and in August introduced the XMM 6255, a small 3g modem for IoT devices.

For Intel, the push into the Iot and wearables goes into the data center, where servers are needed to collect and analyze the massive amounts of data that these billions of devices create, and to house and send the services they need. According to Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager for Intel's Data Center Group, the 1.9 billion smartphones in the world hold an average of 26 apps, and there are on average 20 data center transactions per app every day. That comes out to about 1 trillion transactions a day of smartphone transactions that hit data centers, Bryant said. In addition, the number of smartphone transactions will soon be overtaken by those from wearable devices, she said.

"These devices are nothing without the data center," Bryant said.

Intel on Sept. 8 unveiled its latest chips—the Xeon E5-2600 v3 processors—for mainstream servers, which will offer significantly better performance and power efficiency than its predecessors, both of which are key for data centers that have to handle rapidly changing workloads brought on by the Internet of things and other trends, including mobility, big data and the cloud.