Intel’s plan for the future of computing

We got the intel on Intel from Senior Vice President Kirk Skaugen himself

Last week, at CES Asia in Shanghai, we sat down with Kirk Skaugen, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Intel’s Client Computing Group to talk about what the technology giant’s got in store for us.

Imagine 8K TVs in a smart-connected living room packed to the brim with just about everything rocking the Internet of Things. 360-degree capture for 4K video that you can stitch together on your home PC and watch on your smartphone. 4K display-enabled ultra-thin and portable all-in-ones. Devices where the only password you need is yourself. Laptops with zero ports that charge and communicate completely wirelessly.

Judging by what we saw at their keynote and heard from the man himself, it looks like exciting times ahead, with all of the above in the pipeline.

A world without wires

"I believe that the laptop is evolving to the 2-in-1, where you can have the best of a tablet and the best of a notebook in a single device. As we move to our next generation Core technology with Skylake at the end of the year, we believe we’ll have even thinner fanless designs with our core M processor, as well as both user-facing and world-facing 3D camera technology. It'll also have the potential of being the first PC that really could eliminate all wires.

Soon we’ll build a reference design that enables wireless display, wireless docking, wireless charging, and wireless data transfer, with LTE coming into the notebook too so we could really, for the first time ever, build a PC with no connectors on. I remember it took me about 7 years before I quit carrying my Ethernet cable to Asia after we launched Centrino in 2003, so it'll be many years before we stop carrying wires. But with the 6th-generation Core coming later this year, you literally could go with the first PC that had no connectors and no wires.

USB-C is an exciting technology because we can start powering our devices through it as well. As devices get thinner, you'll see ports continue to get removed from the device. And whether you choose Thunderbolt or USB-C, I think we're on the path to zero wires, but it'll go to one wire first."


The only constant is change

"What's wonderful about the traditional ecosystem is it's the ultimate Darwinian device – it keeps reinventing itself. We went from towers to notebooks to 2-in-1, and year after year the innovation has been very strong. I think for a few years we lacked innovation in the mid-2000s. But that innovation is now back alive and well, so you're starting to see a lot of experimentation. But the categories are blurring, and the reason we created my group at Intel, the Client Computing Group, is because we just see it as a continuum of screen sizes.

A 15in detachable, is that a tablet or is that a notebook? If you go to a 18in or 23in portable all-in-one with a battery, is that a TV, or is that a large tablet? And how do you classify tablets or 7in devices with connectivity? So, from an Intel perspective, we just want to compute and connect, and everything is going to ultimately get connected with wireless WAN, especially as we move to 5G.

It's exciting what Microsoft announced at Build – a unified application framework. It enables your phone to be displayed on large screens, so you can design once for a broad range of screen sizes. We think that's really exciting because we can build a system that has the best performance in mobility mode for battery life, but when it's docked, will use the advantages that Intel has over ARM to burst the performance up to have capabilities well exceeding that. So something that might be operating at 2-4 watts, you can actually burst that by docking it and blowing air over it, and because it's cooler you can actually get turbo performance.

We build master reference designs, and that's becoming important for us to do, even for the PC world. You saw on stage today a 10mm-thin 4K portable all-in-one with a RealSense camera. You saw the next-generation Core with integrated wireless charging, wide-gig docking, and wireless display. And when you're routing all those antennas, it's becoming very challenging to route the wireless charging coil, the wide-gig docking antenna, and the LTE antenna because of communications interference. That’s why Intel is essentially building the whole reference design and having people innovate and change off of that, versus them starting from scratch."

You are your password

"People are very frustrated with passwords. We do about 50,000 end user touches a year through surveys and different data collection mechanisms, and we test over 800 concepts. And over the last 3 years, the feedback has been very consistent – they want to interact more naturally with their computing device, and get rid of my frustrations associated with passwords and wires. In the United States, there are about 18 passwords per person, though in Asia it's slightly less than that. But, it’s not only the number of passwords you have to remember, they're also constantly changing.

Instead of going to “no passwords”, we want it to be “you are your password”. And your physical identity is the most secure thing because there's only one you. So whether it's iris or facial scan, the 3D technology now enables you to eliminate the spoofing that used to happen, such as being able to run videos in front of a traditional 3D camera. Now we're actually able to detect blood flow, blinking, and have dozens of facial detection points using 3D technology that makes us incredibly secure.

We believe computer security is incredibly important, that's why we spent almost US$8 billion on McAfee to be an expert in security, because our brand is very important when we move to a no-passwords environment. With Windows login on Windows 10 using RealSense technology, Microsoft and Intel now have actually agreed on a security standard to make sure that consumers can buy with confidence."

Leading the charge

"We need to drive down the power of everything from displays to our own silicon. The most important thing we have to do for all devices is drive down the power. It's not going to be about the battery size any more, if we want to get incremental weight out of there. We need to have wireless charging be ubiquitous so you can charge 10 minutes here in this interview, 10 minutes in the coffeeshop, and 10 minutes in the car on the way home. If you can charge wirelessly on your desk at home, in a hotel, at the coffeeshop, you can shrink the size of batteries to the point where you're just always charging, and won’t be afraid of running dry. That's not to say that we're not interested in different battery technologies. We do invest with our Intel capital in lots of exotic battery materials. But the most important thing we can do is lower the power and make wireless charging as easy or easier than getting Wi-Fi access is today."

"For wireless charging, the most important thing we need to do is get standards aligned. At MWC, we announced the Power Matters Alliance and the Alliance for Wireless Power are combining. That means that brands like Duracell, Starbucks, AT&T are all aligning around this magnetic resonance technology. We need to get the final Qi group to merge so that consumers don't need to worry about compatibility. Until then, we'll enable covers for phones that tablets with tri-mode, so that they don't need to worry about which technology or standard, at least for the next year or two.

After that, we need to drive down the price, and Intel is actually helping to invent higher power charging. Because everything done so far today has only been 5 watts or lower, and phone only. Intel wants the same technology to be able to be support wearables, phones, tablets, PCs, which means we need to get to 20 watt versions, and ultimately 40 and 50 watts too. Once we do that, we want to enable the whole ecosystem of transmitters, so the consumer can buy a transmitter, put it under this table, and have a new PC or tablet charging here, and then maybe 6 months later you show up at a coffeeshop as well. We'll have 5 and 10 watt solutions this year for phones, tablets, and wearables. And then for PCs, we’ll be starting with Skylake, with it hopefully growing in 2016. So it really depends on whether you want to deploy a phone and tablet solution this year, and then just upgrade infrastructure, just as you do with anything else, when higher wattage solutions come out.

Then we’ll have a ecosystem effort, just as we did with Centrino. If you remember in 2003, Intel had a logo program where you walked into a hotel, or a coffeeshop, and it said this hotel is powered by Centrino. All that meant is we went and tested the Wi-Fi connections so that you could seamlessly connect. So we need to do something similar in wireless charging where if you go into a place that has magnetic resonance, you know for sure that it's going to be compatible."