LAS VEGAS — Intel is finally cool again. In an hourlong keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the chipmaker showed just why it is again a hugely relevant and influential technology company by ignoring the PC and embracing a 21st century vision of computing by leveraging the power of brands like Red Bull, Oakley, Xiaomi and even Lady Gaga.
Intel has not been seen as a cool company by anyone for a long time. When it made Will.I.Am its "Director of Creative Innovation" in 2011, it was clear the tech giant had lost its way as it desperately tried to connect with the smartphone generation who saw Intel as a curmudgeonly old tech grandfather their parents used to power those ugly PCs.
Meanwhile, most phonemakers ignored Intel's mobile chips in favor of offerings like Qualcomm's Snapdragon line.
As Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich rolled onto stage on a Segway to deliver the opening keynote of CES here on Tuesday evening, it seemed that lack of cool was continuing. Krzanich, dressed in a natty combination of sweater, jeans and trainers looked every bit the out-of-touch CEO of a giant technology company. His monotonous, steady and unwavering delivery added to the feeling that you are in safe -- but very unexciting -- hands.
"There is a rapidly growing role for technology that is at once transformative, unprecedented and accessible,” said Krzanich. “With people choosing experiences over products more than ever before, Intel technology is a catalyst to making amazing new experiences possible, and ultimately improving the world in which we live.”
However, over the course of the next hour Krzanich highlighted how Intel is playing a crucial role in facilitating a revolution in computing from wearables and smart home devices to robots, drones and even fashion. While there was a brief sighting of a PC on stage, there was a marked absence of what is traditionally seen as Intel's core business.
Intel is partnering with companies like Red Bull, X Games, Oakley, New Balance, Xiaomi, drone-maker Yuneec and many more to build the devices which will put computing everywhere and create smarter and more connected products.
During his keynote, we saw Krzanich stand next to a ramp as a BMX rider performed a 360 flip over his head -- all tracked in real time with one of Intel's tiny Curie modules designed for wearables. We saw parkour runners flip, twist and jump across the stage while their heart rate and speed was tracked live on a big screen.
We saw how Intel's RealSense camera technology is now rolling out to consumer drones with the Yuneec Typhoon H drone demonstrating how it uses RealSense to automatically avoid obstacles without the need for a human pilot. And there was a connected drone display which mimicked fireworks.
We saw how RealSense is powering a new Segway from Ninebot (owned by Xiaomi) which transformed into a robot which will follow you around the house. Also in the spotlight was Intel's partnership with Replay Technologies, which will soon allow viewers at home to get a more immersive sporting experience by giving them the control over where they view the action from. Krzanich said Intel plans to "take this experience to every sport around the world," but failed to extrapolate.
Also on stage were new smartglasses from Oakley called Pace Radar (above), which will give you updates about your workout, including prompts to speed up if you are not working hard enough. “This is the start of a dramatic revolution in sports,” Krzanich declared. We heard how Intel will power connected snowboards at the X Games in June, providing real time statistics about lift, speed and rotation to broadcaster ESPN. And we learned how Intel will work with running brand New Balance to create customized 3D-printed midsoles for a personalized running shoe.
And there was a 3D-printed dress, which changes depending on your mood, powered by Intel's Curie platform. We heard that Intel will collaborate with Lady Gaga on an unknown project to launch during the week of the Grammys. "With the arsenal of the world's leading technology at my fingertips, I now have the ability to invent the un-inventable," Gaga said in a teaser video.
There was no mention of Intel Inside, processing power, PCs, laptops or any of the other baggage which Intel carries with it -- and that was a really good thing.
There were of course some missteps. A smart hard hat is hardly what the kids are talking about. An instrument-less musical performance by well-known Indian composer A.R. Rahman was a throw back to the uncool Intel. Seeing "musicians" wander around the stage waving their arms in the air to create music (using Intel-powered smart wristbands) just reminds everyone of seeing their slightly drunk dad playing air guitar at a wedding.
But those blips were just minor faults in a hugely impressive presentation. At CES on Tuesday Intel finally got out of its own way and showed the world just what its chips can do in a way that is relevant and speaks to the people who will be using Intel's technology for decades to come.