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.

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.

Holiday Post – Escape from Technology

Happy New Year everyone, I hope you had some great time off! One question – how many of you changed your online or social media habits while you were on vacation? What is a holiday if you’re still connected?

For those of you who love a bit of snow, Thredbo is an internationally recognised skiing and snowboarding destination about 5 hours’ drive from Sydney, travelling south. Of course, that’s in the winter months. During summer, the ski fields are converted into mountain bike trails, and visitors from around the world use Thredbo as their base to walk to Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia.

This was our chosen family holiday point, with plenty of activities for the young kids and a much cooler temperate than back in Sydney. It also presented me with an opportunity to consider our perpetual attachment to our beloved gadgets, away from the usual work environment.

On one such occasion, I made a lone trip up to Mount Kosciuszko. I had my Garmin GPS watch monitoring my heart rate and speed, a Shuffle with my favourite metal tracks to keep me motivated as I made my way up the mountain, and my iPhone so I could take pictures and update my progress to my friends. Of course, in my rush to get my gadgets ready I almost forgot to take survival essentials like food and water (in my case, Powerade and Binka’s Snakes).

A ten minute chairlift ride that’s not for the vertigo-affected!

It’s a 13km return trip from the top of Thredbo to the peak of Mt Kosciuszko, a relatively short distance. I fancy myself a bit of a runner, so I started jogging right from the chairlift drop-off – and immediately proceeded to hyperventilate and nearly collapse. I hadn’t taken into account the change in oxygen levels, so I was forced to merely briskly walk to the peak.

This was fortunate, though, because it allowed me time to take in the breathtaking views. It occurred to me while I was up there that this was how any animal or human would have seen this area for thousands of years. I turned off the music, took the headphones off and just enjoyed what was around me for the rest of the journey.

One destination that needs to be seen in person to be believed.

By the time I’d reached the top of the mountain, I was having some really intense thoughts about our reliance on all things techy – I’ll put it down to the brain being starved of oxygen, or the spectacular vistas I was gazing at, wide-eyed in wonder. Why are we so beholden to the very devices that are supposed to set us free? Could I forsake these material things that seem to define part of who I am? Where are all the trees up here? Am I the only one wearing sports shorts on the peak?

Not shown: Trees

Once I’d reached the peak, I had a good, long, appreciative look at the natural world around me, and asked a fellow traveller to take a photo for me on my iPhone. When I looked at the photo, I couldn’t help but notice that the 3G signal was at full strength! I quickly emailed the photo to my work colleagues back at Bing Lee and on Facebook, and almost instantly had replies, all while I was sitting up amongst this awe-inspiring view.

Shown: the only guy on the peak that wore his running shorts.

I made my way back to the chair lifts pretty quickly, being able to run as my body had adjusted to the altitude, and it was mostly downhill! But I did stow the GPS, Shuffle and iPhone in the backpack, and just enjoyed the path through the magnificent environment.

Somewhere down there is my family’s hotel room.

As I ran, I reflected on my previous thoughts while walking up. Unlike jewellery, or fashion clothing, or other self-defining purchases, tech gear almost always helps us connect to someone or something. They’ve evolved from serving you, to serving you to the masses, encouraging us to share, to communicate, and to participate. It’s not a question of to have or have not; it’s considering what the right product is to suit the purpose. The thrill I had from my live update and prompt responses on the mountain could not have been duplicated with older products and platforms.

This makes me more excited than ever to see what products I’ll be talking about to you this year. It will always be more than just about the model, its specs and design, I’ll be discussing how it makes your life better and helps you achieve what you set out to accomplish.

With that, I wish 2011 is everything you dream it to be, and I’ll be back soon with the next Ritchie’s Room instalment!

How Tablets are Changing Comic Book Reading

One of my life-long friends, Jim, lives and breathes the comic book scene. In fact, he loves it so much that he now manages one of the big comic book stores in Sydney. It’s a vibrant, loyal industry that extends to collectables, comic conventions, and for many could be called a lifestyle as much as a hobby.

I’ve always been a casual comic reader, and a big fan of the “trade paperback”, which combines all the comics from a particular episodic run into one easy-to-read volume. This format is the best for me, as I’m not a comic book collector and never want to wait for the next instalment. I’d just wait for Jim to get the trade paperback after the story arc had run its course and enjoy the complete story. The tactile experience of reading an exciting comic, thick in plot, visuals and dialogue, can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or gender.

I’m also a huge gadget fiend, so when the iPad arrived on our shores, I had one in my hand within the first hour of the day of launch. After exploring the wide variety of apps in the iTunes/App Store ecosystem, the iPad had reignited my interest in the good old comic book. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this is the future of comics, for a variety of reasons.

I’m not saying that the viability of physical content will go away anytime soon. From what I’ve seen, comic book fans are passionate and enthusiastic, which will fuel this growth for a while to come. What I’m talking about is the expansion of this business into the hands of people that may not have appreciated the art or storylines of comics before.

The vivid experience I have when reading is what makes me very excited to re-engage with the comic book in the electronic format. It’s an amazing, dynamic environment that enhances the comic rather than takes away from it. This is because software developers have created techniques for artists to present their work in new and exciting ways.

For example, the Comixology app for iDevices has an option called “Guided View” technology. You can choose to view each comic page as you would a physical copy, or you can double tap on a panel and it will zoom in and present that panel, which then progresses on to the next, giving you heightened detail and an opportunity to deeply appreciate the artist’s craft. Because of this, I’m not flipping through pages; I find myself slowly and deliberately enjoying the comic, transitioning from panel to panel rather than page to page.

Reading a comic in this fashion is like savouring and consuming a delicious meal, moving from dish to dish, especially if you’re a fan of the artist or writer. And you are in control of the reading pace, so it’s much more intimate and subjective than watching a cartoon or animated feature. It actually extends the reading time of a comic for me, due to the slower admiring of each panel’s finer points.

This is not an experience that will be restricted to the iPad. I’m sure as more major PC manufacturers come out with tablets over the coming months, publishers will be looking to expand their distribution. The iPad has definitely set the benchmark as the platform to beat this kind of reading experience, and it’s a positive outcome for the comic industry with another distribution arm to keep their business on a positive growth curve. Serious comic collectors may keep their first print issues in airtight packages and still enjoy the read in electronic form, which could increase revenue and inspire more artists to create and offer their work online.

Which brings me to my last point on this post, which is today’s technology setting the foundations for new artists and publishers. Printing paper is an expensive and wasteful process, but offering a strong concept online in comic form could be the best way for up and coming talent to showcase their work and earn revenue – and just like music artists that wouldn’t have a had a chance before music was sold online, anyone with the intent and skills has the chance to succeed. That’s what an open market is all about.

I’m going to go back to my Action Philosophers comic now. See you again soon!