Steve Jobs’ Legacy is in the Clouds.


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Sadly, Steve Jobs never got to see iCloud launched, passing away only days before its worldwide release.

Yesterday, shortly after the passing of Steve Jobs was reported, my Twitter feed and Facebook news items were almost exclusively reflections and tributes for the co-founder of Apple. Amongst the quotes and condolences, one comment stuck out for me :

“Steve Jobs is in the iCloud now.”

That particular statement resonated with me as I’ve been commenting on cloud storage and cloud computing options such as the Chromebook in recent posts. Up to this point in time, cloud-based activity has really been restricted to enterprise and corporate budgets, investing in their own servers and managing them internally.

Google Documents and Microsoft’s Skydrive have both offered a solution for online document and file management, but neither has yet reached the point of mainstream acceptance. Google’s Chrome OS, which is currently appearing on a few specially designed portable PCs, is the closest to a fully cloud-reliant system.

Steve Jobs announced iCloud back in June of this year, and when launched will be the easiest way to take advantage of cloud storage, particularly if you own multiple iDevices. Photos, music, documents, even contacts and calendar info will be grabbed from your device and pushed to other devices in your sphere of iOS devices. And in typical Steve Jobs style, the focus was not on the technology or innovation behind this rethink of how we use our connected devices – Steve wanted us to know that “It just works”.

A YouTube clip of Steve Jobs on stage in 1997 demonstrates just how visionary Steve Jobs was and where he saw the future of computing – not just for calculations and localised processing, but as a truly connected communications system that ultimately rendered localised storage moot.

Back in the late 90’s, we were still talking about large, clunky desktops; this has evolved to the sleek notebooks and touch screen products we now take for granted. The advancements in cellular and wireless technology means information is always within our grasp – and iCloud is in a perfect position to change the local storage paradigm that most of us still live by.

Here is the original 1997 discussion on server-based storage that back then would have sounded pretty fantastical, especially considering the infrastructure users would have had to create for their own mini-cloud.

And here is the slick, all-encompassing service that Apple will be offering from October 12th as part of the iOS 5 update.

It took 14 years to arrive at this point, but the iCloud release is an important landmark that will again disrupt industry standards and move end users to online storage without needing to know the details of server farms or network grids.

Ironically, this may stimulate further growth in competing cloud-based products and services because of this shift to mainstream that Apple will be creating. After all, as Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Steve Jobs’ legacy is not just in the products he invented and produced, which have become treasured objects as much as technological achievements. The ripples, indeed waves, of his influence will be felt as we evolve into an age where how we do things is just as important as what we do them on.

Steve Jobs, Rest In Peace.

(Feel free to leave your own reflections and comments on what you think is Steve Jobs’ greatest contribution.)

Asus UX31 Ultrabook: First Look

Intel’s new line up of low voltage Core Processors have given rise to a new generation of notebooks, which will start to see the light of day from this October onwards. I’ve had an opportunity to have some hands-on time with an upcoming model from Asus, who have been displaying a fair bit of innovation in the tablet area and look set to continue that trend with this new range.

New breed... the UX31 Ultrabook.

“Thin and light” is the war cry for Ultrabooks, and the Asus UX31, one of the new breed of mobile PCs about to be unleashed to an unsuspecting public, can add “metallic” to that anthem. This is a very industrial-looking piece of tech, from its brushed metal lid to its ultra-thin wedged front and rather sharp corners.

No fingerprints... The UX31 doesn't attract marks and dust like some glossy finishes.

The Asus UX31 was handed to me in a smart looking leather envelope, which seemed incomprehensible to be carrying a notebook of any sort. The envelope itself has a magnet embedded in both the body and fold-over, keeping the package well protected until the dramatic opening, revealing an extremely thin metal Ultrabook.

The Asus Ultrabook travels in style.

The leather slip case was light with the Ultrabook inside, and the UX31 feels as if it should be a little heavier given the physical materials it is wrapped in. The unit is only 1.1kg, extremely light for a notebook of this size, and you really notice its lack of weight when it’s open and operating in the palm of one hand.

Classy...Low tech leather and high tech metal metal make a great combination

The front edge is so thin – 3mm – that Asus have smartly added a small protruding lip at the centre of the lid for easy opening. The unit then increases in thickness to its rear, reaching only 17mm at its peak – still very thin.

Thin profile... the UX31 in side profile showing USB and SD card slot.

From standby, the UX31 bounces into life in a blink, and the bright 13.3” screen displays a 1600 x 900 resolution, higher than some larger screen counterparts. The expected array of status LED is missing, with only tiny white LEDs embedded in the caps lock, Wi-Fi function key and in the power key, which has been integrated into the keyboard layout.

Sparseness is the theme for this Ultrabook, with a small but useful amount of connections. On the left hand side there is the SD/MMC card slot, headphone jack and USB 2.0 port. On the right hand side are all the new-tech connections: Micro HDMI, Mini Displayport and USB 3.0 plus the small power socket.

Digital and high speed connections are welcome on the UX31.

As more components become compressed into smaller and thinner form factors, issues like heating need innovative solutions. Asus have placed its ventilation at the back of the keyboard, just below the screen. The use of the low voltage Core i7 quad core processor and SSD storage also assists in keeping heat down.

Vents at the back of the keyboard help minimise heat.

Video playback was smooth and non-jittery, and it seemed to be able to handle high bit rate content very well. The sound element was interesting – what it lacked in depth, the UX31 made up in stereo separation. Effects and musical instruments were very discernible and seemed to be coming from more than two directions.

Brushed aluminuim and island keys with a full size touchpad. The speakers are positioned between the keyboard and the screen.

For those that have never heard the term “unibody” before, the UX31 is a good example of unibody design and construction. The Asus Ultrabook uses single sheets of material, in this case aluminium, to form a minimalist, almost hollowed-out appearance to ensure a rigid casework. Rigidity and stiffness are more important than ever, with evermore streamlined and sleek designs produced due to the nature of Intel’s Ultrabook criteria. With the advent of Ultrabooks, unibody designs will become much more prevalent in the coming months.

The undercarriage of the UX31... a great unibody execution.

After spending a few hours with the UX31, it’s funny how quickly you get used to the form factor – my trusty notebook that I’m writing this article on looks and feels positively chunky after handling the Ultrabook.

Consider for a moment the advances that had to occur to get us to a point where a product like the Asus Ultrabook could be produced – high speed transfer via USB, reliable solid state drives, low voltage processors, lightweight casework materials, and overhauled cooling designs. Traditional PC makers can be that little less traditional and a bit more edgy with these new products that are as much about lifestyle and self-image as they are about performance and design.

This is one technology bump I can see catching on.

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook – First Look

The age of the Ultrabooks is upon us, and we have the first example of this new category of mobile PC from Acer. At today’s launch, we had a hands-on look at this very thin and impressively light model nicknamed the Aspire S3, and known as the AS3951 through Acer’s formal naming convention.

 

The model that we had an opportunity to get intimate with had an Intel Core i7 low voltage processor, clocked at 1.7GHz with a Turbo boost of 2.8GHz. This particular machine had 4GB of RAM with a 240GB solid state drive.

 

The “thin and light” aspect of the Acer Ultrabook definitely lived up to expectations – only 1.3cm thick, and 1.4kg in weight. When not in use, the lid has an attractive aluminium surface that didn’t appear to pick up fingerprints – one thing glossy finishes can be guilty of.

 

There are no vents on the bottom of this Ultrabook; instead heat is dissipated through a vent at the back of the unit just below the power button. This keeps the underside from overheating – a handy feature considering this would be a very mobile device and will probably spend some time on the user’s lap.

 

Inputs and outputs are kept to a minimum. There is a SD/MMC card reader on the right hand side, and headphone socket on the left hand side. At the back are all the other connections: power, HDMI and two USB ports. As with all Ultrabooks, the Acer S3 has eschewed an optical drive in favour of its slimmer dimensions.

 

Ultrabooks are Intel’s answer to the burgeoning tablet market, and here are two areas they intend to compete head-to-head: battery life and power-up time. We started up the S3 and the SSD delivered an impressive 20 second boot-up time. When coming out of sleep it was almost negligible – if you were distracted by something out the window and looked away, by the time you looked back at the screen it would have been ready for you.

Battery life was quoted by Acer as being around 7 hours, but the eyebrow-raising figure was the standby time claimed – up to 50 days.

The island-style keyboard and integrated touchpad/clickpad kept in with the minimalist theme that the S3 was conveying. LED lights were absent with the exception of two subtle blue indicator LEDs next to the power button.

 

This was my first personal experience with an Ultrabook, and I walked away quite impressed. It’s more than a glorified netbook, and can hold its own against traditional notebooks. It’s not a direct tablet alternative in that the tablet OS and app ecosystem has its own advantages and indeed Acer’s own Iconia speaks to that market segment.

Some of the S3’s tablet-like characteristics could be attractive to that group of users that are more demanding of their devices, and indeed the Ultrabook may be their workhorse PC of choice, as it offers long battery life, instant on and high performance all wrapped in a cool, statement-making chassis.

Ultrabooks will definitely be compared to the MacBook Air, and for those that need or like to use Windows, that comparison will be a fair one. PC manufacturers such as Acer (and Toshiba & Asus, hopefully to be seen locally soon) will have a new category of portable PCs that both perform and look the part.

 

The Acer S3 is due to be released mid-October, with pricing and configurations to be confirmed shortly.

Will you be upgrading your current notebook to an Ultrabook? Feel free to comment below..

Harmony in the Clouds A Logitech Story

The concept of the “cloud” as an online personal and corporate space is a fairly recent one. There is one company that has been quietly going about its business for many years, leveraging the benefits of cloud-based data to support a product category not usually associated with sophisticated online interfaces. That company is Logitech, and the product is their range of Harmony universal remote controls.

"All your data in the clouds"

Who would have thought that all our data and information would one day end up in the clouds.

Let’s take one step back and remember where universal controls started. Back in the day, a universal remote came with a nice long printed list of potential brands and models along with a code that you could enter, and you’d cross your fingers that the model you owned was on that list. Or, even more old school, you’d align the actual remote and the universal so that the infra-red signal passed from one to the other to “teach” the universal remote the pattern.

Then as companies realised that hard wiring their remotes with all the brands and models was just not feasible, some interesting methods to update the universal controls appeared. One particular process involved ringing a number provided, quoting the brand and model of the product you wanted your universal to control, and they would send a signal down the phone line, sounding similar to a fax connection. You would have to hold the remote up to the phone speaker, and it would receive the code. Sounds primitive by today’s standards, doesn’t it?

Of course, the Harmony remote range can be explained in terms of how many components you want to control, the ability to set up macros for multiple actions with one press and so on, and it’s important to know that so you can determine which remote in the range might be right for you.

What makes the hardware so successful is the vision of the company to create and maintain a global database of all popular brands of every type of remotely controlled device, and the associated control codes for every possible command. Logitech have loaded over 200,000 devices and millions of individual control buttons stemming from these remotes.

This is where it gets real interesting. As the owner of a Harmony remote, you access the online interface through a software window, and setup your personal profile, entering the models of the devices you have, and how you usually use them – Blu Ray with the surround sound system on, Digital TV with  just the TV speakers, for example. Logitech then send that information to your connected remote control, and instantly you have an up-to-date universal remote.

This is a great example of the cloud playing a definitive role in making life that little bit easier in the lounge room. If you upgrade any of your devices, just update your profile and synch your Harmony remote. If you lose your Harmony (I’ve learned this is not hard with two kids under the age of 3) or decide to upgrade for more control, you can get a new remote and replace the data. Your cloud-based profile is always accessible by you to easily make those changes.

When we produced the video below for Bing Lee, I saw the software and user interface as driving the hardware range. If you already own a Harmony remote, you may not realise you’re already playing in the cloud. And that’s a great take-away from this – the cloud is not a destination, but a solution that can adapt and evolve as you and your needs do.

Here’s our video explaining the Harmony system and current range. Do you use a universal remote control, and what have your experiences been like?

Ritchie’s Chat Room: Intel Director Makiko Eda

As the director of Intel’s marketing and sales division for Asia Pacific, Makiko Eda can talk with authority about her company’s current and future position in a world now dominated by daily tablet announcements. Hailing from Japan, Eda was in Sydney to meet retailers and get an update on the Australian arm of the Intel business.

After the worldwide recall which affected all PC manufacturers, Intel is preparing to re-launch its second generation Core processors commonly known as Sandy Bridge. Eda is under no illusion that the recall did not affect business for both Intel and its customers, admitting there was “pain in the supply chain, delay, and missed opportunities in the market.”

Eda notes that they have strengthened their verification process in the production and testing areas, saying there is definitely a need for “an extra step at the factory”. After the success of the first generation of iCore models, Eda noted there was a “military” push to get the new chips to market, and when they did find the issue that sparked the recall, Intel “had to make a quick decision.”

That recall left much of the market starved of higher value product, particularly in the quad core notebook range. The challenge now is to make enough noise about a category that has been overwhelmed by the interest in tablets. “We hear a lot of concern, that computers are kind of boring”. The new range, Eda says, “has a lot of new capabilities and can bring more excitement into the category. As Intel we have to do a better job of communicating that excitement and experience that Sandy Bridge brings to the market.”

So how does Intel feel about the impending onslaught of tablets? “Tablets are a great device, but they’re not going to replace computers.” says Eda. “It’s going to be a secondary device, but it is getting a lot of attention in the market.” With NVidia becoming well known for their tablet processors, Eda says Intel will have their own offering in the second half of the year. “Our products will focus on energy efficiency, performance and added value to the tablet.”

In the meantime, Eda says that netbooks remain a viable alternative in the near future as a second device, and that Intel are working with manufacturers on innovations to keep the netbook category relevant. “We’ll come up with interesting form factors, like hybrids. You’ll get the goodness of tablets, ease of access and thinness but at the same time you have the convenience of the keyboard.”

Intel have set their sights on the lounge room as well, with a host of manufacturers showing off Intel-embedded Smart TVs at this year’s CES exhibition in Las Vegas. Said Eda, “We’re working with some partners to enable the internet experience on TV more seamlessly. We want to make it an out-of-the-box experience.”

With cloud computing also on the horizon from a consumer perspective, Eda believes that the enterprise space will derive the most benefit at this stage, where “the internal cloud makes more sense”. Consumers may not be ready to make the leap because “you rely so much on the communication infrastructure. You may still want to have a photo on your hard drive; you may have videos you want to see, without thinking ‘do I have an internet connection here’?”

Security will be foremost in the minds of end users when products like Chrome notebooks begin to make their way into the retail space, and to that end, Eda says that Intel are “working on hardware-based solutions”. Intel’s acquisition of McAfee may be part of that plan, with Eda hinting that Intel intends to “extract some of the (McAfee) goodness to integrate into the core business with security features in the future.”

With the computer industry evolving quicker than ever, Intel faces challenges from many corners, but Eda is confident of her company’s ability to repeat the successes of last year’s Core processor launch. As Eda explains, there’s more to computers than talking about speeds and specifications. With the marketing focus on the “experience”, rather than the product, Intel is “trying to put a little bit of the human side into it.”

Interview courtesy of Intel Australia.

When Is a Tablet Not A Tablet?

During my latest planning meeting with my contacts at Samsung, I had a closer look at a product that has been shown at various exhibitions but not yet released for sale here in Australia. It’s an interesting product, given the upswell in interest in the Tablet category. It’s called the Samsung Slider Series 7 PC. Note that the word “tablet” isn’t in the description.

Many manufacturers are lining up to offer their own take on the tablet product space, and this model from Samsung, aside from the Galaxy Tab, is a form factor that does take some cues from the tablet concept but is still very much a netbook. Why? It’s all about the operating system.

As you can see from the picture above, this model comes with full functioning keyboard and for all intents and purposes works just like a standard netbook, although it does use an upgraded Atom processor and is loaded with Windows 7 Premium as opposed to Starter, so it has a full notebook operating system. In this form, the netbook is also touchscreen enabled, which may be useful in some situations.

However, the screen can be articulated all the way to be flush with the keyboard, and slid down to change into a tablet. This action activates a customised user interface. You can then hold and handle the Slider PC as you would a tablet, although it is a little thicker due to the keyboard adding an extra layer of componentry and hardware.

Samsung mentioned that more “apps” would be available as they’re developed, and they would appear on the screen above.

This is certainly an interesting product, and worked well for the short time I had it, but is it a tablet or netbook first and foremost? I think the answer lies in the software. Both iPad and Android have an interface that has been built from the ground up for the touch experience, and they have an app environment that Windows does not really compete with.

If this product does eventually come to market, I think it will appeal to the user looking for a small notebook or netbook with a keyboard; that wants to use Windows-based programs such as Office; and likes the idea of being able to convert the netbook into a touch screen for ebook reading or viewing video content.

This product concept illustrates the influence of the tablet usage model into other designs such as this netbook. Is this a product you’d consider purchasing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Is There a Future for 7” Tablets? (Unboxing videos below)

Since the iPad launched and set the benchmark for portable touchscreen devices, no other manufacturer has come close to replicating its success. The combination of design, performance and developer support has made this the benchmark for what Steve Jobs calls the “Post-PC” era. This year, the Post-PC era will be more than a solely Apple event, with many PC manufacturers lining up to introduce their own tablet.

Steve Jobs has made it very clear that he thinks the 7″ tablet segment is doomed to fail. After seeing some of the new tablet offerings from traditional PC manufacturers, there will be some compelling reasons to consider one. Here are some of the reasons I think the 7″ tablet market will flourish in what will be a year full of innovation.

I’ve handled the Telstra T-Tab, the Viewsonic Viewpad7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and they all have one thing common – they’re light and fit very easily in one hand. I use my iPad nearly everyday, and it’s usually on the couch, with the iPad lying on the armrest. But I have a confession to make: I have sustained minor facial injuries from lying in bed, head on the pillow holding the iPad up while reading and dozing off. Come on, admit it, you’ve done the same, right?

7″ tablets weigh much less, and the screen real estate is very different to a 10″ screen, but with that comes a lightness and size that make it much more attractive to take with you, particularly on public transport. It does feel much more like a small novel you’re holding, and if you’re using it as an e-reader, you can change the font size to suit your eyesight.

This may be a minor point, but 7″ tablets are much more inconspicuous. You could use one on a train or bus and not attract attention to yourself. Whip out a new iPad 2 and you’ll be forced to explain and demonstrate the device to at least one fellow passenger. Not a bad thing if you’re an extrovert and like showing off your tech gear, but it might be an issue if you just want to use it to catch up on news, play a quick game, read a book or browse the net – with no interruptions.

I have mentioned it before, but I think the tablet market is divided into two distinct categories – portability and mobility. 10″ screens are great used around the house and office space, connected to wi-fi, and used for rich content consumption, even some creation, especially with the editing and production apps now available. 7″ tablets are the perfect form factor for on-the-go use, to slip into a purse or small bag, and used on a much more casual basis. They suit users who want a subtle mobile device as opposed to a full blown tablet.

Below are two unboxing videos we produced for Bing Lee for 7″ tablets and you’ll see what I mean by fitting in one hand. It’s a category that will occupy a smaller share of the overall tablet market, but will still exist to meet the needs of a particular segment.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Unboxing:

Viewsonic Viewpad7 Unboxing:

Intel’s New Processors: Bridging the Gap

On Tuesday 18th January, Intel hosted a media and retailer launch in Sydney to demonstrate their new processor range, the second generation of the Core Processor Family, commonly known as Sandy Bridge. Special overseas guest and Intel evangelist Mooly Eden revealed to the audience how processor development is changing within Intel, delivering his presentation with humour and enthusiasm. It’s a fairly dry subject, but Mooly managed to steer clear of too many specs and statistics and focus on the practical benefits that he and Intel believes the new range will deliver.

Intel Sandy Bridge General Manager Philip Cronin

General Manager of Intel Australia/New Zealand Phillip Cronin opens the event.

As a retail technology buyer, it was a great opportunity to gain some insight into the company whose name adorns millions of notebooks and desktops worldwide, yet remains hidden deep inside those products. The physical Intel product can only be imagined as a concept; it is what the platform enables us to do as users, that has secured its success as a microprocessor manufacturer.

Intel Sandy Bridge Mooly Eden

Highly entertaining and passionate about processors & people: Vice President & General Manager PC Client Group, Mooly Eden.

On a global scale, some of the statistics Mooly quoted are mind-boggling. One million PCs are shipped everyday around the world. The new processors carry 1.16 Billion transistors on each chip. From a user perspective, there are 2 billion internet users around the world, 240 billion emails sent per day, 2 billion videos viewed daily, and 2.5 billion images uploaded to Facebook per month. These usage figures are the ones that have brought into focus Intel’s challenge – to meet the demands of how we interact with our PC on a daily basis, which is far removed from our behaviour only a few years ago.

Intel Sandy Bridge Brain and Human Brain

Mooly reminded us that today’s chips are not too far away from having the same number of connections as a human brain. The words “Sky” and "Net” were thrown around as well.

PCs have indeed shifted from being a desktop in a room that everyone shared, to being a completely personal device that is used to socialise and communicate online. As more educated consumers, we have all progressed from looking at and comparing specs before purchasing a PC, to now judging whether that product would enhance the experience of what we would normally use a computer for – in other words, seeking out the practical benefits rather than checking out what’s under the hood.

Intel Sandy Bridge Samsung Notebooks

One of Samsung's hot new models. Also, there is a notebook in this picture.

At this launch, the issue of content creation versus consumption was raised, and I think it highlights one of the biggest challenges to chip makers. Most of us think that when we are moving our movies and music to a portable device, or uploading new photo albums to our Facebook account, it all falls under the umbrella of “consumption” – it’s all being moved around to be shared and enjoyed. Nothing is being “created” as far as the user is concerned.

However, from a PC perspective there is PLENTY going on. Every time a video moves from a PC to a portable device it needs to be “transcoded”, or changed from one format to another. This requires not only a high speed, reliable link between devices but also sheer processing power to alter the file into a format best suited to the device it’s being transferred to. Likewise with photos uploaded to Flickr or Facebook, the images need to be compressed without major quality loss before uploading. All of this is “creation” – creating a new file to fit the requirements of a new device or online destination.

Intel Sandy Bridge Acer Notebooks

Acer's new look premium notebooks, incorporating an innovative touch interface.

Yet, the expectation of any user, myself included, is that those activities should “just happen”. So behind the scenes, Intel is working to a new paradigm – determine the ideal user experience, understand the environment in which it’s happening and deliver hardware that can cope with those demands.

Quick Sync is a good example of supporting user behaviour. It’s basically a transcoding feature that speeds up the compression much quicker than any hardware before it. And because the HD graphics engine is on the same chip, Intel claim there is no need for a dedicated graphics card unless you’re a hardcore gamer or high definition video editor. The demo certainly was impressive, more so as it was without discreet graphics hardware. To drive the point home, some high resolution rendering and bulk-photo red-eye removal processes were demonstrated and were amazingly quick.

Mooly introduced the PC Theft Defence Service, which in simple terms assists in rendering a notebook useless if it was stolen and then connected to the internet by the thief – the user would be able to send a “suicide pill” which the notebook would pick up online and self-destruct. He also showed off a new game, Portal 2, which used motion-sensing equipment to navigate and control a third person shooter.

I was impressed with the avatar demonstration that replaced a person’s real face with a new, animated one – one which could be changed by choice. The point of the demo was to show what could be achieved with the new processors, and where man-machine interfaces may evolve.

Intel Sandy Bridge Avatar

Weirdest tech moment of the night: Mooly talks with an avatar of… well, himself.

The final announcement of the night was a new entertainment feature called “Intel Insider”, which allows full HD movies to be streamed if it detects the new Intel processors in the PC. Because the new Intel Core range uses encryption technology, some movie studios are warming to the idea of releasing full high definition digital versions of its movies – for a price of course. This represents a new distribution opportunity for an industry beset by piracy and illegal downloading.

Sandy Bridge Intel Insider for HD movies

Commercial or controversial? Intel Insider got tongues wagging. Intel didn't bite.

There are two sides to this from a user perspective. Firstly, it does open new markets for film studios to deliver movies in high quality without fear of the file being copied and distributed via torrents and P2P networks. iTunes has proven that people will pay for content when it’s easy to access, manage and enjoy. The flip side is this is the first time a component company, as opposed to a software company, has joined forces with movie studios, and the fear voiced in the room during question time revolved around Intel’s ability to determine what can be watched – if the chip can be used to access content, could it also be used to prevent certain files to be played? An interesting take, but probably not the conspiracy theory some hope for. Movie studios might yet embrace digital distribution on a larger scale, and this is one step towards opening up that comfort zone for the normally paranoid and protective film companies.

Of course, high definition streaming is one thing, but being able to watch it on a big screen is another. WiDi, which is an Intel feature enabling wireless streaming from a notebook to a flat panel screen, has been improved to 1080p streaming. This works in well with the full HD movie streaming offer. Content will be streamed from a content provider to the notebook, which will then push the content onto suitable televisions. This provides an opportunity for film studios, notebook makers and television brands to work with retailers to come up with a bundled offer that makes it easy for the customer to understand and use all the benefits that Sandy Bridge promises to deliver.

Intel Sandy Bridge WiDi Wireless Streaming

Full HD streaming from a notebook to an LCD. Wireless just took another leap forward.

There was a lot to absorb at the Intel Sandy Bridge launch, and the overall feeling I had was that Intel are reaching out to customers more than ever, bridging that gap between what the geniuses at the Intel labs think up in the theoretical world and what users are demanding in the real world. We’re looking forward to chatting to Intel in the near future to discuss their strategy in more detail.

Cheers until next time!

Intel Sandy Bridge Mooly Eden and Ritchie Djamhur

Myself and Mooly Eden after the Q & A session.

Interview with Aust/NZ AMD boss Brian Slattery

Here at Ritchie’s Room, we plan to have a monthly spotlight on a mover and shaker in the consumer electronics industry, to provide readers an insight into some of the challenges and opportunities faced by businesses in our sector, and hopefully a glimpse into the future technologies we may see. These will be honest chats with people I know and work with in the retail CE industry.

Brian Slattery, Country Manager, AMD

Our first featured interview is with the Australian and New Zealand Country Manager of AMD, Brian Slattery, who actually jumped at the chance to be our debut interviewee – which was surprising and humbling! AMD, along with their competitor Intel, produce the majority of the processors that are used in today’s notebooks, netbooks and desktops. Brian was gracious enough to spend some time discussing AMD’s customer segmentation, the battle against the marketing behemoth that is Intel, and how their message is communicated to potential customers.

One of the big take-outs from this session was the emphasis AMD is putting on graphics and leveraging the ATI acquisition in both production and marketing. The other clear direction from AMD is the strategy to “demystify” their proprietary technology in an effort to be understood and attractive to mainstream customers.

Full transcript is below. Thanks goes out again to Brian for his detailed and open responses.

Ritchie’s Room: Brian, thanks for taking the time to chat today. You’ve settled into the Australian market now for a little while – how do you see it differing to other international markets you’re familiar with?

Brian Slattery:    Hi Ritchie, thanks for your time as well. For your readers, a bit of background on myself – I was born and raised in the U.S. and lived and worked there until moving to Tokyo in 2003 to take advantage of my university degrees in Japanese and marketing. I worked in Japan for a few years before joining AMD in 2006, took on an Asia Pacific role in 2007, and moved to Sydney to take on my current role as Country Manager of Australia/New Zealand in late 2009.

The thing I love about the Australian market is the eager consumption of the latest technology, and the value Australian consumers recognize in new tech in our ever-changing market. The strong emphasis Australians place on graphics in particular was a welcome sight for me. With social media and what I call “digital memories” (digital photos, videos, even blogs and social media updates) becoming such a huge part of our lives, it is encouraging to see consumers pick up on the natural tie-in with graphics.

RR: Change is a huge driver of our industry – technology progression, end user behaviour, and the prominence of social media (to name a few) all intersect at the manufacturer’s ability to provide products that suit the market’s evolving needs. How do you see the PC market changing (or staying the same) in the next 12 months, and how does AMD intend to position itself in this market?

BS: We’re well past the phase where having a PC is “nice” – now it’s essential. Since PCs have become an everyday part of our lives, I think we’ll continue to see the need to not only provide the tech part of the solution, but the need for those of us in the industry to be “translators of technology.” It’s not enough to have the latest and greatest specs; we need to be able to clearly explain if a PC fits the unique needs of each consumer. We have developed Vision Technology with that in mind.

We are able to leverage AMD’s distinction of being the only company that provides both x86 processors and discrete graphics cards to ensure that the combination of those two technologies specifically meets customer needs, whether that be an entry level PC for someone who wants to simply check email, cruise the Internet, and handle some productivity tasks all the way up to consumers who want nothing but the best in gaming, video rendering, music editing, and mega tasking. I think the companies that can best articulate how to meet the needs of consumers without getting too deep into technical discussions will be best suited to keep consumers happy, and AMD is in a great position to do exactly that.

RR: The iPad has shown that users have embraced the portable touchscreen concept, and the overall tablet category is gearing up to explode with most big brand vendors preparing to make an offering either late this year or early next year. Do you see this new category eating into the existing market or creating new market opportunities? What’s AMD’s strategy in the tablet space?

BS: I think the success of the iPad cannot be denied, and is a pleasant surprise as it has opened up a new segment. Personally, I see that particular spin on the tablet form factor as being very much a “consumption device.” People are hungry for the ability to quickly browse the Internet for some quick facts, read a few news articles, play a five minute game to kill some time, and then return to whatever they were doing.

I think tablets today do have some limitations in being used as a “creativity device” so I think the existing PC market will remain strong. As a secondary or even tertiary device, however, there are a lot of merits tablets can bring to the table. While I cannot comment on specific products, we do have solutions at AMD that can address this exciting new space and I hope we will see them in the hands of Australian consumers soon.

RR: Intel is fairly dominant in the Australian market, particularly in the mainstream retailers. How does AMD cut through the noise generated by your competitor’s mass marketing activities?

BS: There are many price points and product ranges where AMD based solutions are significantly outselling our competitor’s products, and we are able to manage this by providing the best price-performance possible to consumers — not television commercial campaigns that end up being paid for by consumers. We take pride in working with retail sales staff that end up wholeheartedly recommending AMD products to customers in their stores because they recognize the outstanding products and value we can bring to consumers.

RR: Regarding customer decision-making, there seems to be much less reliance on “speeds and feeds” as opposed to the practical benefits of computer features these days. How does AMD address this as a company that produces one of the main “speed” factors in PC hardware?

BS: We divide our consumer audience into two segments: The “processor aware” and the “processor unaware”. Historically, this industry focused on a very small percentage of the population that could tell you about the benefits of a 2.8 GHz dual-core processor vs a 2.3 GHz quad-core processor. We can have that discussion with the processor-aware. But for the average person looking to purchase a PC today, they will tell you exactly what they expect to DO with their computer. They want to stream HD videos from YouTube, or edit photos from their latest collection. Maybe they want to have a video chat with a relative living abroad, or play the latest games. Those are real world usage scenarios.

With Vision Technology from AMD, we can map those usage needs to the right processor and graphic combinations –the platforms – that will enable consumers to get the experience they want from their PC. The magic is that we can do it without someone needing to study all of those speeds and feeds or do hours of research on what specs their computer needs. For people who want to know the tech, sure we can talk about it, but we feel our Vision levels (Vision, Vision Premium, Vision Ultimate, and Vision Black) create a “seal of approval” to comfort the non-technical consumers out there that a PC with the appropriate level of Vision Technology will do exactly what the consumer wants it to do.

RR: It looks like one of the holy grails for the ATI acquisition will be realised with the world’s first APU (accelerated processing unit) being released. When do you see these being integrated into consumer PCs, and what improvements will end users experience with the fusion of the CPU and GPU?

BS: I was working at the AMD Japan office in Tokyo the day our company announced that it was acquiring ATI, and you could feel the excitement surrounding the potential of the two companies combined surge through the room. Putting the CPU and GPU together on one piece of silicon will bring a higher level of performance, lower power, and a fantastic end user experience. More and more applications today are dependent on GPU technology, such as exploring the globe with Google Earth to converting videos to a format for use with a handheld mobile device. The first APU products have already shipped to our OEM partners, and we fully expect to see products on shelf in Q1 2011. Keep your eyes peeled.

RR: For some time now, whitegoods and audio-visual manufacturers have been communicating the “environmentally friendly” message and making changes to products as part of their “green” initiatives. Do you work with the PC manufacturers on power consumption and other “green” issues? Does the shift from being a processor-driven company to platform-driven assist in tackling climate change and other top-of-mind customer concerns?

BS: AMD has been a leading innovator in addressing the need to be environmentally conscious while producing great technology. We brought worldwide attention towards green IT with our first generation of Opteron processors several years ago, and continue to be an industry leader with every product line released. Those interested in reading more can learn about some of our more surprising activities at: http://www.amd.com/us/aboutamd/corporate-responsibility/environmental-performance/Pages/enviromental-performance.aspx

RR: Thanks for your time today, Brian. As a final question, can you give an insight into AMD as an employer, and how innovation is encouraged to produce market winning ideas and products?

BS: I’ve been working with AMD for the past four and a half years, and am a fan of the company for many reasons beyond the fact they sign my pay check. I truly feel AMD brings choice to customers, and choice brings innovation. That drive to innovate flows through the entire company, and we are all encouraged to be creative on how to best serve our customers, produce technology customers need, and now more than ever make certain customers can easily match their wants and needs to the appropriate products based on Vision technology.. Thank you for your time, and thank you to all of the readers of your blog in their support for AMD.

One thing is certain: if everyone at AMD shares the same passion and enthusaism as Brian for their product, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

Thanks for reading and see you again soon!